The Kill Crew, by Joseph D’Lacey

After the apocalypse, a couple of hundred survivors hole up in a ring of barricaded buildings and fight off the zombiefied commuters that attack every night. But is the greatest threat from without, or within?

The setup of The Kill Crew is far from original – we’ve seen much the same thing before in Day of the Triffids, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, Dawn of the Dead, and so on. In the early pages, especially, this book felt like a grab-bag of random elements from films – a mysterious mist, zombies, cars not working, etc – and they didn’t seem to fit together all that well. The zombies, in particular, seemed rather underwhelming, and zombies isn’t really the right word: they’re people in office clothes who wander around crying. They aren’t undead, and they don’t eat people.

With an author I’d read before, I’d probably have been more trusting, but in those early pages I felt very much as if D’Lacey had put the cart before the horses: he’d come up with the (rather worrying) image of people blasting commuters with shotguns, but struggled to come up with an actual reason for it happening. It felt a bit too contrived. But as it turns out, the book saves its originality for its second half. By the end the commuters have become extremely alarming antagonists, and the book’s various elements come together very well.

Still, it was never quite clear why The Kill Crew – a team of monster slayers sent out to battle the commuters every night – (a) went out at night when the commuters were active, instead of hunting for them while they slept, and (b) went out at all, since the commuters were hardly bothering their community any more. It seemed like a really bad way to go about things – but then the book makes the point that these aren’t soldiers, they’re just everyday people struggling to cope. Perhaps it’s just the human desire to “do something” asserting itself at a very bad time. Or maybe it’s survivor’s guilt, a deathwish. And the book would have been much duller if they hadn’t left the compound: the sequences where The Kill Crew has to high-tail it back to the Station were exceptionally thrilling.

There are a couple of editing glitches. For example, there’s a passage where a guy called Lee stops talking, because someone’s given him something difficult to think about. Sheri then explains to the reader that she’s happy when everyone’s quiet, because it means they are concentrating on the job – which makes little sense when we know Lee is quiet because he’s thinking about something else. Commuters is capitalised or not fairly randomly. Apostrophes are up to their usual high-jinks: “Stopper’s with this problem.” “Load you’re gun, babe.”

But those minor things (which may well have been fixed by the time of final publication) weren’t enough to spoil a very exciting and at times very frightening book – and in the end the publisher takes responsibility for such errors, rather than the author.

What’s most interesting and impressive about The Kill Crew is the way it skips the actual apocalypse to focus on what it’s like to be cooped up in an enclave fighting for survival. The book conveys brilliantly a sense of how thoroughly depressing that would be, of how such a life would wear a person down. Many post-apocalyptic books are about rebuilding, about beginning a new cycle, but this one is about attrition, about an apocalypse that won’t give up until it has utterly destroyed us. And if it doesn’t destroy us physically, it’ll erode our humanity until we have no reason left to live.

It may not be the most original book ever written, but it’s very well done, psychologically very rich, and extremely efficient in its eighty pages. Anyone who enjoys survival horror will find this very satisfying.

StoneGarden, hb, 80pp.