First published back in May of 1992, the fifteenth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Chill Factor’, was written by the series’ first author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
New Mexico greets Ryan Cawdor and his companions like a sledgehammer to the face.  Following their jump from the sweltering heat of Florida, the group of survivors are met with Jak Lauren who informs them that Ryan’s ten-year-old son, Dean Cawdor, has been taken by a band of well-organised slavers, under the command of a Russian leader.  Fearing the worst, Cawdor asks Lauren the name of the Russian.  A name that was given to Christine Lauren by one of the captured slavers under the pain of torture.  The name given was ‘Zimyanin’.  And it’s a man Cawdor has encountered before.  A heartless and cruel foe who proved to be a very dangerous individual to be up against.  It’s a man who Cawdor knows wants revenge.  And now he had his son.  Cawdor’s only hope is that Major-Commissar Gregori Zimyanin doesn’t know who the boy he has just kidnapped is.

After resting for the night, Cawdor and Jak Lauren return to the Mat-Trans unit where they utilise the ‘Last Destination’ button that the group had recently identified.  The jump takes them to the cold north of the American continent where they arrive into a bitterly cold redoubt.  Having wrapped up against the deadly chill, Cawdor and Lauren begin to explore the vast length of the deserted redoubt complex.

Within minutes of leaving the Mat-Trans unit, the two companions are met by a trio of cute feline creatures which Lauren quickly identifies as cuddlies.  However, the small balls of fur are far from the friendly and loveable creatures that they portray.  And, whilst his guard is down, Lauren finds himself at the sharp end of a savage cuddly – with his neck and face torn open by the beast’s vicious claws.

Upon realising the threat in the foot-long cuddlies, Cawdor and Lauren make short work of the critters – but the wounds that Lauren has already suffered require immediate attention and rest.  As such, Lauren is forced to return to his home in New Mexico where the rest of Cawdor’s companions await them.  And now Cawdor is left to rescue his son alone.

Meanwhile, Dean Cawdor is being forced to work twelve hour long days, labouring in the dangerous caves and tunnels of a vast sulphur mine.  Surrounded by fellow slave labourers, young Cawdor not only has the Russian leader and his thuggish sec men to fear, but he also has the unwanted attentions of the other desperate prisoners to fend off.  With no hope of escape, and violence and death around him day and night; Dean Cawdor knows his only hope of surviving rests with his father.

Thankfully Ryan Cawdor has Zimyanin’s sulphur mines in his sights.  But first he must rest and formulate a plan to infiltrate the vast complex.  However, there are more dangers here in the rocky mountains surrounding the mines than just Zimyanin and his sec men.  Cave dwelling muties known as Trackies are said to roam the area – and within the redoubt itself Cawdor has awoken a set of mechanical androids that were left over from before Sky Dark.  Metallic killing machines designed to track down and kill those that trigger their programming.  And the Sec-Hunter androids have Cawdor in their sights…

DLS Review:
Right from the outset, Laurence James jumps straight into the principal plot of the tale, with it having already been set down courtesy of the final pages of ‘Deathlands 14: Dark Carnival’ (1992).  With a very quick reminder of where we are with things, the novel then splits Cawdor and Lauren off from the group, under the somewhat weak pretence that just the two of them will have a better chance of rescuing Dean Cawdor.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, to have the action woven around just two of the group rather than all of them makes for an interesting change in pace.  Indeed, when Jak Lauren is then further removed from the equation – having Cawdor on his own just cranks up the intensity of the tale even further.

However, it doesn’t end up being just Cawdor who’s up against Zimyanin and his sec men.  Early on in his venturing around the surrounding mountainous caverns, Cawdor encounters a seventeen-year-old girl named Kate Webb together with her grandfather – Cody.  And, after a bit of tough-talk-banter between the two of them, Webb ends up joining Cawdor for much of the novel.  But it’s a strange relationship that Cawdor and Webb have.  There is definitely some purposefully unstated attraction between the two of them – which Laurence James only hints at, but never really details much more of.  Furthermore, it all sits very strangely with Cawdor and Krysty Wroth’s relationship.  It’s never detailed whether or not Cawdor does anything with Webb – possibly with the purposeful intention of leaving it up to the reader to decide if they want their principal protagonist to be someone who would do something along these lines.  Whatever the reasoning, it certainly adds a provocative element to the storyline.

Along with the Sec-Hunter androids and the marauding Trackies – who incidentally come from the same blueprint as the likes of Jeff Long’s ‘The Descent’ (1999), Richard Laymon’s ‘Midnight’s Lair’ (1988) etc. – Cawdor also has to pit his wits against a Jim Jones type of psychopathic cult leader and of course his old enemy - Major-Commissar Gregori Zimyanin.

As such, there’s always plenty of action going on in the novel.  Barely a chapter goes by without some new threat severely encroaching upon Cawdor’s chances of reaching his son.  And perhaps the most ‘from-out-of-nowhere’ of these is with the crazy-controlling-cult-leader – Elder Bluffield.  Cawdor and Webb’s encounter with this trumped-up nutter is crammed with intense aggression and quietly simmering tension.  And it makes for a great couple of hard-hitting chapters – wrapping up in a darkly comical fashion that just about sums up everything that we love about Laurence James.

All in all, ‘Chill Factor’ is another hugely entertaining addition to the Deathlands series.  Like with the previous instalment, it’s clear that Laurence James has now found his perfect stride with penning the novels, and is managing to play around with a near-faultless formula for producing violent post-apocalyptic romps that keep up a heck of a pace from start to finish.

Another unmissable instalment into the series.

The novel runs for a total of 349 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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