"Z-Boat" Book Review
Written by Suzanne Robb
2011, 277 pages, Fiction
Released on November 30th, 2011
Well, man has finally gone and done it. After years of war and disregard for the planet, mankind has been forced to search the bottom of the oceans for food, fuel and clean water or the human race is done for good. There's also money to be made in these expeditions if you are a submarine owner like Captain Iain Kingston. He takes on a major contract for a rescue operation, with the condition that four people, handpicked by the people paying him, join his party on the job. Kingston reluctantly agrees because the money he will make off this contract will allow him to retire. His crew, on the other hand, are less than pleased because the dangers of the job are high, and that's before they even know the whole story.
Seems like the stranded sub the crew of the Betty Loo are looking to rescue is beyond help. Some sort of virus has infected those on the sunken sub and turn the victims into a bunch of flesh eating walkers. You would think this would be important information for those on the Betty Loo to know, but outside of the crew, everyone involved has a secret agenda known only to themselves. Secrets always lead to a good time.
First and foremost, Z-Boat is not a zombie book. Yes, it has zombies in it, but they aren't fully realized until about the last 60 pages of the book. Normally, that would have pissed me off considering that it's insinuated that this is more of a walking dead novel than it really is. Hell, the title is Z-Boat for crying out loud. So, yeah, I was expecting a lot more flesh eaters than I got. It's like watching a trailer that promises one thing, but delivers something completely different (The Exorcism of Emily Rose anyone?).
Fortunately Suzanne Robb is a very skilled writer and even though the implied zombies are lacking, the mystery, action and adventure delivers in spades. For the first third of the novel, you are fed bits and pieces of the motivation of each character. Granted, you get some more than others (some things are still unclear after the book is finished), but Robb feeds you a little bit at a time, keeping the book's pages turning at a brisk pace. Plus, when the undead action comes, it's a brutal free-for-all of blood, guts and grue, making it well worth the wait. All I could think as body parts were flying was how awesome this would be on the big screen. Robb does a fantastic job on painting a picture of unrelenting violence.
Yet what impressed me more than anything else is the slew of varied characters found in Z-Boat, and how each is diverse enough that none run together. There are no less than eight people running around the Betty Loo and at no point did I have to flip back to see who was who. Admittedly, many of the characters are stereotypical (eg, the gruff and silent sub's engineer, the doped up adrenalin junkie, the alcoholic ship's captain, etc.), but Robb gives each of them enough of a distinguishing voice you can let it slide.
However, while Robb does a great job at making believable (albeit a bit cookie cut) characters, there are so many of them that none really manages to break through and stand out in the book's 270 pages. Finding one to root for is difficult when the shit hits the fan. Of the eight, I pulled for Ally, the sub's pilot with the mysterious past, but even as much as I liked the character, there just wasn't enough for me to completely get behind. No matter what happened, it wouldn't have affected me too much either way. This makes it all very bittersweet because I think if Robb had dropped a character or three — or even merged a couple into one — and turned that attention to those that remained, I would have cared more for what happened to them.
If you're looking for a full on zombies-on-a-sub novel, you're going to want to look elsewhere. However, if you are into solid storytelling with ample amounts of action and a pretty damn good payoff, give Z-Boat a read. I've read in an interview that Robb has plans for two more, so jump in now so you'll be ready when the second book strikes.
Want to comment on this review? You can leave one below or head over to the HorrorTalk Review Forum.