First published back in April of 1991, the twelfth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Latitude Zero’, was written by the series’ first author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
Having been left stranded in the southwest of Texas after barely escaping the destruction of the entire redoubt, Ryan Cawdor and his band of travelling post-holocaust survivors set off southwards from the destroyed gateway.  Their journey across the dusty wastelands takes them to an isolated farmhouse where a man named R.G. Ballinger greets them with guns blazing.  After negotiating with Ballinger for food and shelter, Cawdor and his companions find that the instantly dislikeable man lives with his two equally detestable sons – Larry and Jim as well as his unfortunate daughter Christina.

However Ballinger’s hospitality is nothing more than a facade, and soon enough the two young lads are breaking into the room where Krysty Wroth and Mildred Wyeth are sleeping with plans of rape and murder.  But what the two young rapists don’t anticipate is the skill and cunning of the two young women they are planning to attack.  Whilst the father waits outside for his sons to have their way with the new arrivals, Jak Lauren moves in with his knives, dispatching the serial-rapist and murderous father.

Now left to look after the Texas ranch on her own, Christina Ballinger thanks Cawdor and his companions for freeing her from the endless torment she had been suffering at the hands of her father and her brothers.  A thanks that is extended to a greater degree towards Jak Lauren who Christina has taken an obvious liking to.

Leaving the ranch and Christina behind, Cawdor and his gang continue southwards towards the Grandee when they are hit by a sudden onslaught of freakish weather; with a vicious hurricane and flash floods disorientating and almost wiping out the travellers.  But it’s whilst they are in the eye of the storm, during the calm that comes in the very dead centre, that Cawdor hears what sounds like the faint sound of a locomotive’s whistle in the distance.  A sound that sets his mind racing.

Having survived the torrential weather, the six companions soon come upon a Wag Train which is travelling westwards across the desert landscape.  Cawdor agrees with the travelling community’s leader - Major Seth Ward - that they will provide additional protection to them in exchange for food and shelter for the time being.  With both Stickies and Scalies evidenced in the vicinity, it is a pact that unsurprisingly brings them up against a stream of mutie attacks almost immediately.

But it’s not until the god-fearing community, under the spiritual guidance of Reverend Elder Vare, reaches a ghost town named ‘Salvation’ that the real threat level rises.  Whilst Ryan, Krysty, J.B., Jak and Major Seth Ward are out scouting a nearby shopping mall named the Rubicon Pass Mall for supplies, the notorious Skullface has arrived into Salvation on a steam-powered locomotive, capturing everyone there.

However matters soon get a whole lot worse for the captives when the infamous Skullface reveals himself to his prisoners.  With his gaunt, skull-like complexion and piercing eyes filled with evil torment, for Doc Theophilus Tanner, there’s no mistaking who this evil man really is.  There’s no forgetting the degrading acts that the ex-sec boss put Tanner through.  The fiend who continues to torment and kill for the sheer sadistic pleasure of it...Cort Strasser.


DLS Review:
From the start, author Laurence James launches straight into another typical ‘Deathlands’ storyline, once again with another dusty wasteland as a backdrop for what will soon become a wonderfully fast-paced and action-rich plot.

Somewhat differently, this time the tale doesn’t begin with the after effects of another Mat-Trans jump.  Following on from where ‘Deathlands 11: Time Nomads’ ended, the gateway along with the entire redoubt was destroyed in a massive explosion, leaving Cawdor and his comrades stranded in the middle of West Texas.  Subsequently, the tale begins with Cawdor and his companions already in perilous danger of dying from dehydration or starvation.  And so there’s little choice but to simply hit-the-ground-running with another desperate and danger fraught adventure in the post-apocalyptic Deathlands.

Commencing with a small sub-story involving the murderous Ballinger family (murderous apart from Christina Ballinger that is), the action soon gets underway with what quickly proves to be another classic set-up for the group.  Interestingly, hints towards a love interest involving Christina and Jak Lauren start to emerge – which will later have much more of a bearing on Lauren’s own direction in the series.

With the short Ballinger storyline wrapped up in a matter of just two or three chapters, the tale ploughs onwards, throwing in extreme weather conditions and then the arrival of Major Seth Ward’s god-hungry community.  Instantly Revered Elder Vare is shown to be an utterly dislikeable character, with his spiritually-guided decision making coming into direct conflict with Ryan Cawdor’s highly experienced skills at survival.

A couple of blood-thirsty mutie attacks make a nice energy-rich bridge, announcing the arrival of the novel’s principal antagonist – Skullface.  Having already acquired a certain amount of notoriety in the novel thus far, it’s little surprise that Skullface turns out to be a particularly prominent villain from the previous books.  And this far in the series – none have more ruthless weight on their shoulders than that of the now-deceased Baron Jordon Teague’s sadistic sec boss – Cort Strasser.

The resulting set-up is carefully orchestrated to allow for a plot involving a tricky rescue operation that sees Cawdor up against a ruthless and bloodthirsty band of killers, with hostages being executed every ten minutes until Cawdor surrenders.  It’s high-adrenaline stuff, with plenty of drama and tension to keep the pace charging on forwards.

Indeed, Strasser has become somewhat of an even crueller and more twisted super-villain than he was previously.  His hatred for Cawdor and Jak Lauren have continued to smoulder away, and now with them all reacquainting again, Strasser’s desire for revenge is unstoppable.

And so, for the final two-thirds of the tale, the novel weaves another utterly exciting and enthralling storyline laced with numerous twists and turns and heart-pounding action.  And it doesn’t let up once until the final page is turned.

The novel runs for a total of 349 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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