First published back in May of 2014, ‘Drought’ followed on from a long line of well-received and highly revered titles from veteran British horror and thriller author Graham Masterton.

DLS Synopsis:
It hadn’t rained since mid-November.  Months and months had gone by without so much as a hint of a cloud in the sky.  And Martin Makepeace remembered the day the sky shed its last rain well.  It was the day that Peta had walked out on him, taking with her their son Tyler and young daughter Ella.  Martin didn’t blame her for it.  He knew no woman could be expected to put up with his unpredictable bursts of temper.  He called those dark days his ‘Djinn Days’.

However, with the seemingly unrelenting sun beating down on them each day, Martin was beginning to see a definite shift in people’s temperament.  Working for the Social Services, Martin was able to witness how the poorer side of San Bernardino dealt with the stifling dry heat and severe lack of rain.  Furthermore, the news had been reporting that the reservoirs were nearly empty and the rivers and lakes were down to the lowest levels ever recorded.  But the drought situation was very much more severe than what was being reported on the news.  Crops had been devastated, and if it carried on, they were going to be facing food rationing as well as water restrictions.

The water department had been forced to set up a special emergency team; one that had been put together to deal with the ongoing drought.   They had immediately set in motion a rotational hiatuses in San Bernardino, both city and county, which equated to them cutting off the water supply on a strict rota basis; first one neighbourhood then another.  And they were doing it without giving those neighbourhoods any prior warning.

Of course the citizens of San Bernardino reacted with anger.  In response, the Governor of California, Governor Halford Smiley, brought in the services of Empire Security Services; a zero tolerance security firm led by a cold-hearted man named Joseph Wrack.

With San Bernardino turning to aggression in direct response to Smiley’s shutting off of their water supply, Martin Makepeace finds himself face-to-face with the life-threatening difficulties that the families under his care are suddenly confronted with.  The streets of San Bernardino are no longer safe.  Looting and rioting is everywhere.  All hell is breaking loose across San Bernardino, and it’s made all too real for Martin when all of a sudden his own family is dragged into the mounting chaos of it all.

And with no sign of water becoming available any time soon, things are just going to get a whole lot worse…

DLS Review:
You know what you’re going to get with a Graham Masterton novel.  Whether it’s a horror or a thriller, you know the storyline’s going to be fast-paced, with plenty of gritty twists and intense action.  You also know that it’s going to be a damn good read from start to finish.  Let’s face it, it’s pretty much guaranteed.

And what you have with ‘Drought’ is a hard-hitting ecological disaster thriller in the style of Walter J. Williams’ ‘The Rift’ (1998) or indeed Richard Laymon’s ‘Quake’ (1995).  Admittedly, the idea’s not exactly a new one.  Indeed, you need look no further than the likes of J.G. Ballard’s ‘The Drought’ (1964) or indeed Charles Einstein’s ‘The Day New York Went Dry’ (1964) to see the very same ecological theme being explored.  However, like with Laymon’s ‘Quake’ (1995), Masterton has his very own ‘story-rich’ take on how the premise is brought to the table.

Ex-Marine Martin Makepeace is our main man in the tale.  He’s a hard-boiled rough and ready character who has his own demons to bear.  He’s the sort of character you can instantly side with.  He’s flawed through his aggressive, flying-off-the-handle nature.  But he knows his faults, he admits them, and he tries to overcome them.  This makes him that perfect cocktail of a flawed hero.  An altogether believable character with real human traits.  But he’s also someone who gets things done.  He’s tough and determined and willing to put himself into harm’s way in order to see things through.

Other than Makepeace, Masterton has included a whole host of well-defined and masterfully portrayed characters who each have their individual roles to play in the unfolding tale.  Makepeace has his level-headed and trusting ex-wife, Peta, along with their kids to look after.  Throw in the somewhat deprived Murillo family, headed up by their proud Native American father Santos Murillo who’s still got one hell of a chip on his shoulder, along with the high-sex-appeal of the Drought Emergency Team’s Saskia Vane, the obnoxious Governor Smiley, and the novel’s callous antagonist Joseph Wrack – and you’ve got one hell of a character-rich cocktail to carve out the story with.

However, what’s particularly strong in the novel is Masterton’s decision to get straight into the thick of it all from the very first page, all the way until the dramatic final few chapters.  From the very start, the oppressive heat is bearing down on the reader, aggression is in the air, and things are turning decidedly sour by the second.  And then Masterton rams it all home with a scene of horrific ‘social unrest’ that’s pretty much textbook Richard Laymon.

By now we’re only a handful of chapters in, but already the situation is pretty damn chaotic, and things just keep getting worse for the people of San Bernardino.  It’s at this point that Masterton brings in the other stand-out big strength in the novel – a particularly dominating social commentary that runs through the rest of the tale; defining much of the madness and mayhem that is to follow.  Masterton purposefully raises thought-provoking questions around the justification of people’s responses to what is happening.  Questions of morality, right and wrong, responsibility and class are all raised.  Boundaries are blurred and so many angles within the escalating situation get you thinking.  But it’s the ‘survival of the wealthiest’ and the clear division in class that gets the largest slice of the ‘thought-provoking-pie’.

However, running through it all is a tight and incredibly gripping storyline following some superbly created characters.  It’s a tale that captivates its audience with the plot and premise, but ultimately keeps you glued to the page by the close-quartered human element within the larger scale ecological disaster.  It’s intense, gritty and hard-boiled from start to finish.  And it delivers the hard-hitting scenes of adrenaline-pumping action in absolute abundance.

The novel runs for a total of 282 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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