First published back in August of 2014, ‘The Last Plague’ formed the debut novel for British horror author Rich Hawkins.

DLS Synopsis:
Joel Gosling’s stag weekend was to be quite a quiet affair, with the four of them just spending the weekend at a cottage in Wishford.  Booze, films and good company was the order of the weekend.  The four of them had been friends since childhood, and they’d stayed close ever since.  In fact, Frank Hooper was to be Joe’s best man, whilst Ralph Barrow and Magnus Heap his ushers.

The weekend had been going well, with much drinking, merriment and the arrival of a stripper that they’d promised Joel wouldn’t happen.  Then on the last night, whilst everyone was asleep in a drunken stupor, Magnus had decided to go outside for a last cigarette of the night.  And there, whilst deep in thought looking out into the darkness, he sensed something colossal moving across the night sky above him.  The next thing he knew was that he was on the ground, feeling as if he was being crushed from above.  Then the world around him went black.

The next morning Magnus was found curled up in the garden outside.  Assuming alcohol or drugs were the cause of his late night misadventure, they think little more of the matter as the group pack up their things and head off back to their home village of Shepton Beauchamp in Somerset.

Not long after setting off, they come across an abandoned car sitting at the edge of the country road, with the driver’s door wide open, the keys in the ignition and the engine still running. As they continue on with their journey, a half-dead horse steps out onto the road, causing their car to plough into its already battered and blood-soaked body.  Even following the collision they can tell that the horse had been all but ripped apart prior to them hitting it.  If anything, the collision had been a mercy killing.

With the car now completely undrivable, and none of their phones picking up a signal, they set off on foot to find somewhere with a working landline.  But they can all sense that there’s something wrong.  The culmination of all these strange events has brought about a feeling of unease in them.  And when they come across a woman lying prone in the road, puncture wounds in her neck, and a strange malformation in the way her body is twisted in on itself, their fear quickly turns to desperate self-preservation. 

Something’s far from right with the world.

Hiding away in a nearby house, they try to come to grips with the series of events that have led them to where they are now.  Feeling guilty for leaving the woman in the road, Frank decides to go back to her.  And it’s whilst Frank’s gone that they finally begin to realise the hell that has been plaguing the land whilst they’d been enjoying themselves in their isolated cottage.

Great Britain is being ripped apart by a devastating epidemic that has already stretched across the entire country.  Those infected find their bodies changing.  Black spines, razor-sharp teeth and vicious claws breaking out from the bodies.  Flesh corrupted and reconfigured to form monstrous mutations of their former self.  And as their bodies change, so their minds succumb to the infection.  And they too become monsters, hunting down those that remain.

With the infected everywhere, all of a sudden nowhere is safe.  Those that remain are now refugees in what was once their home country.  And all around them, the ranks of the infected are growing.  The monsters now outnumber the survivors.  But it’s only a matter of time before they too succumb to the infection.  And no flesh will be wasted…


DLS Review:
For his debut novel, author Rich Hawkins has gone with an apocalyptic story that unashamedly lends from a number of sources to produce a tale wrapped up in savage horror whilst capitalising on devastating ‘sci-fi style’ proportions.  And alongside this Hawkins has kept a very British feel to the entire story.  The backdrop is all Southern England.  The characters all of the locale.  In fact, in this aspect, the story reads very much like an early Iain Rob Wright novel.  This is certainly no bad thing for a debut.

The tale starts out with quite a slow build to the apocalyptic turn in events.  Here Hawkins invests quite some time building upon the deep friendship and heart-warming camaraderie between the four principal characters.  It’s a bond that is present throughout the entire length of the tale, and one that certainly gains from this early investment.

Sadly the characterisation in the four young men is somewhat lacking.  Rather than creating four distinct personalities, and allowing them to individually connect with the reader on their own levels, Hawkins has instead created the idea of a ‘group of friends’, with hints of character traits mentioned in the opening chapters, but quickly forgotten as the tale progresses.  Ultimately what the reader is left with is four characters that seem almost interchangeable.  The only slight exception being with Frank Hooper who eventually moves into more of a ‘principal protagonist’ role.

However, outside of the characters, what you have is one raging beast of an apocalyptic novel.  The build-up may be slow, but once Hawkins reaches the blood-draining horror of the epidemic, suddenly all hell is (quite literally) let loose.

If you were to take Iain Rob Wright’s ‘The Final Winter’ (2011) and ramp-up the visceral horror by around a thousand notches, then go on and mix in some Lovecraftian style mutations of the flesh akin to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982), or indeed Adam Baker’s ‘Outpost’ (2011), you’ll pretty much be on the right tracks for the apocalyptic sci-fi horror that Hawkins has penned.  And all through it there’s a heck of a lot of Paul Anthony Jones’ ‘Extinction Point’ (2012) in there, but all in a very good ‘inspired’ but not plagiarised way.

And Hawkins certainly packs in the visceral horror.  There’s scene after scene after scene of savage violence, corruption of the flesh, and jaw-droppingly harsh gore.  That’s not to say it’s an all-out splatterpunk novel.  Far from it.  But Hawkins doesn’t hold back from unleashing all hell onto his characters; depicting the atrocities that they face with an eye for nauseating detail that will make you keep squirming in your seat.

In fact, Hawkins’ delivery of the violence is consistently straight-to-the-point, without any padding or dancing about the matter.  Indeed, Hawkins’ prose is almost minimalistic in its approach; with short, sharp sentences stabbing at the reader; as a whole forming a hard-hitting and inherently immediate delivery.

To say this is an action-rich tale is one hell of an understatement.  There are more scenes of desperation and adrenaline-pumping violence than you can shake a veritable stick at.  But it’s the blanket of absolute bleakness which smothers everything that really makes the novel the success that it is.  Hawkins doesn’t try to escape the fact that the story is one bitter and downtrodden read.  Yes, the banter and friendship between the four principal characters does offer some glimmers of light in the overall darkness of the tale.  But it’s nowhere near enough to combat the utter, unrelenting gloom that seems to permeate absolutely everything.  Like with novels such as ‘On The Third Day’ (2010) or indeed Moody’s ‘Hater’ (2006) books, Hawkins allows his tale to wallow in the hellish misery of the situation.  And after a while the true proportions of the epidemic open up to the reader, casting a soul-destroying picture of the world which just swallows you whole.  And my god does it leave a lasting impression.

At the end of the day, although far from perfect, Hawkins’ novel delivers an abundance of entertainment, it goes for the jugular with the intensity of visceral gore, and it doesn’t cower away from embracing the doom and gloom of the apocalypse.  If you want to see Britain torn limb from limb by their own kind as they all succumb to a flesh-mutating infection, then you’ve come to the right place.  There are moments when the sheer, relentless, intensity will get a stranglehold over you.  There’s times when emotions are stretched, when too much innocence is corrupted, and the barrage of atrocities feels like an impenetrable wall of hopelessness.  And it’s at these times that you know Hawkins really has something special to offer.

The novel runs for a total of 533 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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