First published back in April of 2010, Belfast born author Wayne Simmons’ second full-length novel ‘Flu’ tapped into the increasingly-popular subgenre of zombie fiction.  The novel was later followed on with the sequel ‘Fever’ (2012).

DLS Synopsis:
The first signs that something out of the ordinary was happening was when the news started reporting a rise in workplace absence.  Gradually, small businesses started to shut down, and then people started to flee the UK.  But the airports were all closed and eventually the hospitals and medical centres became overrun with patients.  Martial law soon followed.

All of a sudden, a simple sneeze seemed all that was needed to determine someone’s health.  A tickly cough, runny nose – all previously harmless symptoms of a minor cold or flu.  Now, they were like the first nails in the coffin.  The flu pandemic was everywhere.  Experts were saying it was airborne.  And those that caught it were quickly sectioned off from the rest of society.  Isolated and quarantined.  But their fate had been sealed from the moment of their first sneeze.  They would be dead within a matter of hours.  However, they wouldn’t stay that way.

As the entire population was gripped by the effects of the catastrophic flu epidemic, a new horror began to emerge.  Those that had died were returning to an undead life; roaming the streets in the search for living flesh to devour.  The dead were hungry.  And their escalating numbers soon saw the entire population reduced to small pockets of survivors, holed-up in properties as they hid away from the roaming hordes of the dead.

From the outset, Sergeant George Kelly had witnessed first-hand the utter devastation that the flu virus had been causing.  Together with his partner, Constable Norman Coulter, they had been involved in the desperate quarantining of the infected.  In those initial days of the outbreak, they’d seen some haunting and truly nightmarish sights. They had to do some hellish things.  And now it seemed like it had all been for nothing.

Geri McConnell on the other hand had been surviving on her own.  When it got out of control, when society collapsed and utter desperation took over, she happened upon a fellow survivor out in the cold and dangerous streets of Belfast.  Begrudgingly allowed into the house that they had been hiding within, fellow survivors Lark and McFall would become Geri’s unlikely companions in this new post-apocalyptic world.

Elsewhere, Pat Flynn was holed-up in a flat close to the top of one of Finaghy’s inner-city tower blocks.  Together with a young girl named Karen Wilson who Flynn felt it was now his duty to protect; the two had been surviving the epidemic from the relative safety that their elevated positioning in the city afforded them.  Furthermore, with Flynn having been an IRA gunrunner before the flu changed everything, his skills and training with military weaponry put the two in good stead for the initial few weeks.

However, it wasn’t just citizens and the general public who had survived the flu epidemic thus far.  Hidden away in a secret underground military facility dubbed ‘The Chamber’, within the Mahon Road Army Camp in Portadown, previously-retired Major Connor Jackson found himself brought back into action, replacing a colonel who had succumbed to the flu virus.  But, although Jackson had been moved to the facility to head-up the observational operation, he found that he was far from the one to lead the army personnel there.  Instead, Dr Miles Gallagher was the real momentum behind the remaining army presence.  An unsympathetic and utterly callous individual who operated under his own agenda.  And he would do whatever it takes to get the results he was after.

With the streets now dominated by the ravenous hordes of the undead, those that remain in this bleak new existence are forced to work together in order to survive the ensuing days.  But old prejudices die hard.  And everyone has their own baggage in a world where trust is a commodity that no one can afford…

DLS Review:
In recent years there has been a veritable tsunami of zombie apocalypse stories.  More often than not, there’s very little separating one from another.  The themes, backdrops, plots and characters often pretty much blend in to each other.  Accordingly, an author taking on such a premise, really has their work cut out for them if their own offering to the (quite frankly over-saturated) subgenre is going to have any chance of standing out at all.

Thankfully Simmons’ tale does just that.  Okay, so there are a whole host of similarities to many of the genre’s key players.  Initially, the ‘Pat & Karen’ story feels much like the ‘Frank & Hannah’ set-up from Alex Garland’s
28 Days Later’ (2002).  Furthermore, the whole ‘holed-up in a house with the dead roaming the streets outside’ scenario that Lark & McFall et al are placed within has been done to death over the years.  It’s textbook zombie apocalypse stuff.  However, as the pages turn, and the characters begin to weave their own unique stories into the plot, the novel really starts to stand on its own two feet.

Simmons, a Belfast born man himself, has utilised the concrete jungle of Northern Ireland’s capital city to set the bleak backdrop for his tale within.  Having this location alone makes the novel somewhat different from your run-of-the-mill stereotypical zombie apocalypse offering.  Yes it’s a city, and yes there’s that whole ‘urban hell’ vibe going on.  But the slight shift in location from the norm adds a small, but nevertheless noticeable effect on the way the novel stands-out from its peers.

Simmons writes with an absolute abundance of energy and lavish enjoyment at what he is portraying.  His colourful style and short-sharp prose is as compelling as it is entertaining.  Indeed, the word ‘entertaining’ really does sum up the overall vibe of the story quite nicely.  The unashamedly direct way in which Simmons writes, with a complete (and no doubt purposeful) lack of flowery verboseness or unnecessary padding, makes for a story that quickly ensnares the reader and keeps them glued to the constantly churning pace of the tale.

Furthermore, with the perspective of the narrative constantly moving between these pockets of survivors, the story maintains a very purposeful momentum.  The pace roars ahead, with the intrigue of how these separate storylines will invariably converge pulling the reader into the chaos as much as the pounding-dominance of the bold and ravenous storytelling does.

There’s certainly a grittiness to the story that feels borne out of the author’s own attitudes and tastes.  The character of Lark in particular resonates with the underlying feel of the tale.  There’s that punkish edge to the story that seems embedded in its very essence.  And Lark encapsulates this within one individual – a character who is tough and uncompromising in his approach to life, a character who certainly gives as good as he gets, but underneath his constant bravado, has nevertheless become emotionally affected by the apocalypse and all the hell that accompanies it.

However, what perhaps stands out the most in the novel is the inter-woven slightly Romero-esque social (and political) commentary that threads itself throughout the multiple layers of the tale.  Each one of the characters has their own pre-apocalypse baggage, each one has their own unique background and story.  And Simmons almost offhandedly brings them all to the table to see what happens next.  Can they each forget their past hang-ups and come together to face a far bigger (and in some ways more real) foe?  Can we as people simply ‘move on’ when the time demands it for our own survival?  How ingrained are these social and political shackles that we all wear?  There are certainly some mildly-touched-upon thought-provoking elements to the novel, but not overtly so as to sway the storyline towards an ulterior agenda or goal.

At the end of the day ‘Flu’ is a story that knows what it wants to do, and just goes ahead and delivers.  Along the way Simmons packs in as much undead brutality, gritty decision-making, colourful language, bold attitude and good-old guts as he can muster up.  From start to finish Simmons probably enjoyed writing the story as much as his audience is likely to with reading it.  And although it’s a zombie novel, he clearly doesn’t feel the need to pander to any specific audience.  The end result is his own take on the genre.  And what a blood-soaked ride it is.

The novel runs for a total of 282 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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