First published back in June of 1989, the ninth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Red Equinox’, was written by the series’ first author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
After taking another Mat-Trans jump, Ryan Cawdor together with his survivalist companions - Krysty Wroth, J.B. Dix, Jak Lauren, Doc Tanner and the recently awakened ‘freezie’ Richard Neal Ginsberg, arrive at another randomly determined destination.  Finding the Mat-Trans door locked, Krysty Wroth calls upon Earth Mother’s force to wrench open the hefty gateway door, leaving the mechanics of the door’s lock broken and unusable.  The group know that without the door being able to lock, they will be unable to make any further jumps via the Mat-Trans gateway until it is fixed.

Making their way out of the surprisingly small subterranean enclosure, the group take the spiralling stairway upwards, emerging out of a secret doorway built into a chimney stack inside the attic of an abandoned dacha.  After sleeping off what remains of the night, the band emerge from the building into the cold wilderness of a snow-covered Russia.

Almost immediately, they find themselves being shot at by an unknown sniper.  With life in the Deathlands being kill or be killed, the highly experienced survivalists make short work of their cowering attacker to find that it is merely a frail old woman.  Exploring their new surroundings further brings Ryan, Jak and the Armour J.B. Dix to an isolated cabin where they soon find themselves confronted by the dead woman’s colossal son.  No matter how big this gigantic mutie of a man is, Cawdor’s 9mm P-226 pistol quickly brings him down.

Now realising that they are in the hostile enemy ground of Russia, being Americans post-Skydark, they know that they are unlikely to get much of a warm welcome here.  With Ginsberg’s technical background in the maintenance of Mat-Trans units, they know that there’s a strong chance that he will be able to fix the bust doorway lock.  But it will require a number of tools.  Tools which they must now search for.

Meanwhile Major-Commissar Gregori Zimyanin is in nearby Moscow awaiting the end of the bitterly cold Russian winter.  With reports coming in of three strange looking intruders seen around the outskirts of Moscow, the descriptions of the outlanders raises concerns for the Major-Commissar.  As unlikely as it seems, he can’t ignore the possibility that it might just be the very same American’s that he encountered on the icy wastelands at the Kamchatka Peninsula when the murderous Narodniki were finally defeated.  He starts to keep a close eye on any sightings, seeing an immediate threat in the American’s presence in Mother Russia.

And for Cawdor and his companions, Russia is proving as hostile as they feared.  Gangs of teenagers can be seen torturing and killing whoever they decide will be their next victim.  And Russian sec men can be seen patrolling everywhere as they near to the inner parts of Moscow.  Undeterred, their mission is still to obtain the tools that Ginsberg requires to fix the Mat-Trans door.  But their search is proving harder than they anticipated.  And with Ginsberg’s amyotrophic lateral sclerosis worsening by the hour, they haven’t got long before the weakening scientist’s health deteriorates to the point of death.  Time is running out for the American survivalists.  And Zimyanin’s net is quickly drawing in on them…

DLS Review:
Now that the series has eight previous novels firmly under its belt, author Laurence James spends very little time in introducing the principal protagonists of the series.  Instead, the novel plunges straight into a whole new environment for the survivalists, emerging now into the bitterly cold outskirts of post-winter Moscow.  With Lori Quint now toast (thankfully!) following the ending of ‘Ice And Fire’ (1988), the group are now a much more hardened band, with the critically unwell Ginsberg the main weak link (although Doc Tanner isn’t all that handy in a mutie scrap it must be said).

With Cawdor’s band emerging out from the deserted mansion, the tale continues with a slightly reserved pace, with only smatterings of bloodshed and gritty-Deathlands-action thrown in here and there.  However, the pace and violence does eventually start to pick up, once Ryan, Krysty and Rick get into the heart of Moscow.  From here the vicious action really gets going, with Russians dropping like flies whenever the American survivalists find themselves confronted or in a tight spot.

Laurence James takes absolutely no prisoners when it comes to confrontation.  Young or old, innocent bystander or just plain unlucky – if they get in the way, then they’re going down.  The near-feral ‘Wolf Pack’ teenagers simply ups the ante further, making downtown Moscow a particularly cruel place to be.  And with absolutely everyone potentially their sworn enemy, it’s very much a case of them finding themselves the proverbial wasp in a hornets nest.

Bringing in many of the surviving characters from the earlier Deathlands novel ‘Red Holocaust’ (1986), such as Zimyanin and the Mongolian mutie tracker Aliev, Laurence James instantly makes the series feel more interconnected and lateral, with the history of the tales beginning to interlace.  Indeed, much of the storyline of ‘Red Holocaust’ (1986) takes on a dominant role within this book, making it highly recommended (if not essential) reading beforehand.

It has to be said that overall ‘Red Equinox’ is markedly slower-paced than any of the previous instalments.  It has a more cautious and reserved feel to it.  Instead, James utilises tension and suspense to a much greater extent in it – making the sudden bursts of violence and bloodshed stand out like blood on a pure white path of snow.

That said, the run-up to the finale, and indeed the final showdown itself, is as exciting as it is action-packed.  Expect another pulse-racing gun battle and unrelenting slaughter.  Oh yes, it’s all good!

All in all the tale is another absolute  corker of a read.  If you’ve enjoyed the Deathlands books thus far, then ‘Red Equinox’ is sure to please.  Okay, so there’s a fair old wedge of cheese in the tale.  Exclamations from our Russian antagonist such as “By the hammer and the anvil” as well as some pretty ropey attempts at patriotism.  But that’s post-apocalyptic pulp for you!  And it’s just one hell of a read from start to finish.

The novel runs for a total of 299 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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