First published in February of 2012 by Aswang Press, ‘Home Ground’ formed Rakie Keig’s third full length novel to see publication.  Based on her home turf of the Isle of Man, the novel drew inspiration from the immediate history available to the writer.

DLS Synopsis:
It’s the summer of 1940 and English born Allan Hendricks has fled Germany where from the age of four he had been raised.  With WW2 now throwing its destructive fists across the globe, Hendricks finds himself placed within Kirk Maughold Camp – an internment camp situated on the Isle of Man.

Within a month, the cargo ship ‘Victoria’ that shipped Hendricks along with five-hundred odd fellow internees, has brought another shipment of men and women for the camps.  Amongst this shipment of new internees is a Romanian man who had attacked and wounded a handful of fellow passengers on board.  Upon arrival, those involved in the brawl are taken to the medical building.  Here one of the victims is treated for an infected bite wound, whilst the violent perpetrator is locked away in isolation.

Rabies is quickly suspected to be the cause for the unprovoked attacks, and so the local Doctor Alfred Faragher, together with the help of the somewhat medically aware internee Eric Golding, begin to treat the victims for a possible rabies outbreak.  However, whilst attempting to treat the new patients, Dr Faragher is viciously attacked by the Romanian patient Florescu.  Luckily, Hendricks and Golding, together with a couple of guards manage to subdue the Romanian, finding the doctor is somehow still alive.

As the days pass by, little news is heard from out of the medical building.  Golding suspects that no news is not necessarily good news.  As suspicions begin to mount, their friend Paolo who had sustained a bite, begins to show signs of illness.  Concerns for Paolo are mounting.  And then in the dead of night, the Paolo suddenly disappears from his camp. 

A full blown search of the entire enclosure ensues, but to no avail.  Not knowing what else to do, Golding conspires with Hendricks to take matters into their own hands and search for the missing internee during the night-time curfew.  And that’s when lurking in the shadows they find the reanimated corpse of their friend, roaming the silent grounds of the camp.  Unsurprisingly, Golding’s medical curiosity is whetted, and he manages to persuade Hendricks to help him to run tests on the undead corpse of Paolo.

And so away from any prying eyes during the darkness of the curfew hours, Golding’s experiments on his once alive friend Paolo begin.  But hidden away in the onsite medical building the experiments start to push the moral boundaries.  When Hendricks’ self-imposed time limit on the experiments is on the verge of being reached, their late night experiments suddenly become exposed.  They have been discovered.  But with the discovery comes the danger of ignorance.  And with that comes the possibility of a full blown outbreak of this new and highly infectious disease.  A disease that can reanimate the dead.  A disease that sends its victims into a flesh hungry rage.  A disease that was one known as the Strigoi…

DLS Review:
Keig’s WW2 set zombie tale is starts off as somewhat of a slow-burner.  Indeed the story spends much of its early chapters carefully setting down the tightly enclosed location, the unfolding plot and setting out the principal characters.  And with the novel written in the first person perspective of our principal protagonist, Allan Hendricks, Keig allows for a veritable wealth of attention to be plied into the development of this character.  In doing this Keig allows the reader to engage with the character’s emotional struggles surrounding the traumatic events that are taking place within Kirk Maughold Camp.

The growing relationship between Hendricks and Golding is one which is given much time and effort to portray.  The result to this is a character rich story, allowing for an altogether charming connection between reader and that of these two principal characters.  Furthermore, the classic bookending construction to the novel, with the prologue and epilogue set in modern day Isle of Man, brings out a delightful ‘storytelling’ element to the delivery of the tale, adding a certain ‘literary warmth’ to the book.

The zombie element of the novel is relatively minimal compared to other recent releases in this increasingly popular (and oversaturated) subgenre.  Keig instead puts added precedence to the atmosphere, the characters, their confinement, and the authority’s response to the epidemic.  Indeed, much of the novel bares a particular resemblance to that of Stuart Gordon’s cult horror flick ‘Re-animator’ (1985).  Throw in a collection of scenes (and now I come to think of it some of the characters as well) from George A Romero’s film ‘Day of the Dead’ (1985) and you’ve pretty much got the general workings of ‘Home Ground’.

Epic and expansive, this story certainly is not.  However, what it is is dark, chilling, atmospheric and above all bursting with tension.  When Hendricks and Golding’s secret experiments are discovered, the sheer edge-of-the-seat suspense is nothing short of nail-biting magnificent.  From this moment on it’s a constant struggle to find a place to put the novel down.

As the altogether meandering and (seemingly) directionless storyline carves its way through a collection of emotional battles, the tale eventually stumbles on to an ever-so-slightly disappointing finale.  Yes the story is wrapped up neatly, with a mildly predictable final twist stamping out the novel’s end, but from such a suspense hungry storyline building to this final point, you can’t help but feel a little let down but how the tale ultimately signs off.

Luckily this does not overshadow the novel too greatly.  From quite a slow start, the tale gradually picks up its pace, setting down a thrilling and utterly engaging read, packed with numerous twists and turns to keep the reader fully enthralled throughout.  This is a novel that’s as gripping as it is haunting.  A tale that bites you in the shadows and just doesn’t let go.

The novel runs for a total of 211 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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