First published back in November of 2011, Canadian author Suzanne Robb’s novel ‘Z-Boat’ formed the author’s debut full-length release.

DLS Synopsis:
Ever since the mighty superpower nations fell apart, the countries that had hidden away their nuclear weaponry for countless years usurped control, becoming the new rulers of the world.  Russia, Israel and North Korea quickly became the dominating powers in this new world soon to be known as a virtual utopia.

However, life on Earth was far from a utopian existence.  The sun had not penetrated through the thick smog cloud that covered much of the globe.  The oceans and rivers had turned toxic over years of pollution and mistreatment.  And so, mankind had turned to the far depths of the oceans for alternative fuel, food and clean water.

But mankind’s last hope in these largely uncharted and unexplored depths had not been one without loss.  Six months ago a submarine had sent out a SOS distress signal, requesting urgent assistance.  Nothing had been heard from the crew of the submarine since.

And so, the Betty Loo, captained by Iain Kingston was hired to perform a search and rescue mission for a fee that was too high to decline.  In order to secure the mission, Kingston promises his mysterious client that his submarine can go to depths he knows is more than likely beyond its capabilities.  But from the income of this one mission, he could retire from work for life.  An opportunity too good to miss.

Joining Kingston on board his late-twentieth century submarine are his usual crew – pilot Ally Lane, her lover the muscular apprentice mechanic Marcus Hauser, Kingston’s main underwater diver Nina Rose, and his go-to-guy for any electrical, mechanical and any other such problems with Betty Loo - Dutch Mitchell.

However, his employers have insisted on five extra crew members joining Kingston’s team for the duration of the mission.  Five individuals who have been assigned to aid the job due to their particular talents.  Twenty-eight-year-old Ivan Sulter is a trained deep-sea diver who can operate every type of submersible in existence.  Dr Maxine Williams, who has developed various cures from her deep-sea research.  Tom Simon an expert in deep-sea navigation making him the sub-pilot on board the Betty Loo.  Philip Kramer – an oceanic botanist and a specialist in seaborne illnesses.  And finally, Johnny Ventura – a cocky deep-sea diver experienced in diving in extreme conditions.

Kingston is understandably wary about the mission.  It’s far from the usual search and rescue that he and his team are used to.  And as they set off on their mission, information comes in from their contractors informing Kingston that explosives have been put on board the Betty Loo in case of their failure.  Furthermore, any indication that they’re aborting the mission will also result in their destruction.

The mission has suddenly taken on a much more worrying air.  And with Kingston announcing to his crew that the Betty Loo will need to dive to depths beyond its usual capabilities, everyone on board the submarine is deeply concerned about the danger involved.

But the situation goes from bad to worse when it emerges that someone on board the Betty Loo is purposefully sabotaging the mission.  Furthermore, Johnny Ventura’s obvious addiction to the underwater plankton known as squish, adds a further stress to the situation.  And worrying hints to Kramer’s shady past begin to point towards him being responsible for releasing a largely untested substance into the Pacific Northwest water supply that resulted in an epidemic that killed millions of people.

All of a sudden no one knows who they can trust.  The situation is getting out of hand, and the mission has barely even started.  And what awaits them on board the marooned submarine that no one has heard from in six months, is beyond their worst fears.  And reconnecting with the silent submarine within unchartered depths could unleash a terrifying hell upon the entire world...

DLS Review:
I guess the first thing that needs to be said about ‘Z-Boat’ is that the novel is perhaps more a deep-sea suspense thriller than that of a run-of-the-mill zombie horror story.  Okay, so our undead rotting friends are still in the tale – and they instigate the usual blood ‘n’ guts gore as soon as they hove into view.  But the zombie presence in the tale is actually quite minimal.  It’s not until around two-thirds of the novel has gone by before our first reanimated corpse shows its ferocious rotting face.

Okay, so what have you got instead?  Well, author Suzanne Robb spends a large portion of the initial half of the story setting down the not-too-distant future setting, the dog-eat-dog mystery plot, and most notably the characterisation for the ten principle characters and their individual roles within the storyline.  And it’s this level of characterisation invested into each of the crew members of the Betty Loo that really makes the novel work so well.  Every one of the characters is easily distinguishable, with their own unique objectives and parts to play in how the tale unfolds.  Admittedly, at first the characters are each introduced and defined in a bit of an ‘information dump’.  That is, Robb sets down their names and their basic characteristics via their personnel files which near-alcoholic Captain Iain Kingston peruses prior to setting off on their mission.  But from these small acorns, Robb goes to great lengths to develop upon each one of the characters, until the reader feels properly acquainted with each one of them.  And then, with the first signs of sabotage on board the submarine appearing, the plot-vital mystery element to the tale begins to take its predominant place.

The pacing of the tale is sporadic at the best of times.  The first half of the tale is somewhat reserved, setting the scene and establishing the characters.  During this, there’s really little action or suspense to get the readers’ blood pumping.  But that’s all to come.  And when the action and vicious tension begins to take root, so the storyline really starts to come into its own.

Confined in the cramped interior of a 70ft by 200ft submarine, the claustrophobia begins to emerge.  Trust in each other quickly withers away, leaving behind a tense atmosphere where there are more problems than there is reassuring familiarity with the mission.

The incorporation of in-depth details surrounding the inner working of a submarine is either down to considerable research or very convincing elaboration.  Either way, it works, and the submarine setting is entirely believable.  

And then, when our pushed-to-the-breaking-point crew members finally reach the eerily quiet submarine, the tension is as palpable as the ocean’s pressure bearing down upon the incredibly tired Betty Loo.

When the zombies arrive in the tale, they arrive en force.  It’s manic, terrifying and violent.  Robb has adopted the more modern-day zombie for her tale, with their reanimated abilities closer to a
28 Days later’ (2002) threat than a George Romero lumbering zombie.  Rage – these rotting corpses have got it in bucket loads.  And having sat around for six long months in a submarine, waiting for people to arrive, they’re just itching to get their rotting chops around so warm human flesh.

The last third of the tale quickly turns into an intense onslaught of action and violence.  Blood and guts are spilt here, there and everywhere.  And in amongst this chaotic horror madness, Robb continues with her overriding thriller plot.  The characters keep to their mission objectives.  Their agendas remaining unswayed, even in the face of such a terrifying enemy.

Robb pulls off a nail-biting and action-rich finale, throwing together a head-spinning array of violent zombie action and character betrayal.  And from this truly spectacular ending, Robb signs off with the mouth-watering teaser of a possible sequel to this enormously enjoyable and truly engrossing underwater-thriller/horror crossover.

The novel runs for a total of 280 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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