When I reviewed The Infection, the first book in a seemingly ongoing post-apocalyptic series penned by Craig DiLouie, I stated that he was an author that knows his voice. The action was well paced, the emotions were real, the tension expertly portrayed. I called that novel a “really good book,” and I meant it. And then DiLouie had to go and release a second installment and make me change my definitions of his work.
That is because The Killing Floor, that aforementioned second book, goes far beyond really good. It enters rarefied air and becomes great. And when I say great, I mean Stephen King/Robert McCammon great, as in a nearly flawless work of dystopian brilliance.
The story picks up right around where the last book ends—after the destruction of bridge connecting West Virginia and Ohio. Our heroes are now scattered, both in separate militias, still struggling to both survive and make the world safe again—an obviously thankless task in a world where zombies and other unearthly beasts roam. There is also a touching subplot added to those we already know, one that follows around a group of soldiers as the US government attempts to retake Washington D.C.
Whereas The Infection follows a very tight, rigid timeline, The Killing Floor meanders a bit in the best of ways, mainly because the world has become a huge war zone, and oftentimes in war there are long periods of stagnancy that would probably come across as rather boring in print. This is not to say that this book is nothing but action, however. While there is a good deal of conflict, DiLouie picks his spots. There is much more introspection this time around, many added instances of characters mourning the loss of their friends, questioning their place in the world, wondering if, now that their existence is redefined, there will ever be a place for them again. It’s truly heartbreaking to read, real gut-wrenching contemplations that sting in their sincerity.
This aspect is illustrated beautifully by an inventive storyline dealing with a mutation of the original virus. Trying not to give anything away, one of the characters—a ne’er-do-well who became a cop in one of the survivor camps—is stung by a beastie and develops some…er, interesting abilities. This character’s story weaves his past in with his current reality through dreams and hallucinations, and does a cut-up job of showing a man who is, like society itself, a redefinition, and though it’s dangerous, though it’s scary as hell, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even though this man was a loser in his past life, that label doesn’t have to stick with him for the rest of his existence. If I can think of two words to string together and come up with to describe the tone of these particular segments, and the book as a whole, it would be thus: horrendously hopeful.
As before, DiLouie does a fantastic job of making each character flawed but likeable, of taking clichéd personalities and giving them depth and meaning. Even the most common cliché in this type of fiction—the quirky scientist—proves to be much greater than the sum of his parts.
Also, it must be said that not only does DiLouie portray the military in a sympathetic and thoughtful light, he has obviously either done tons of research into the matter or is one of the best B.S. artists of all time. The dialogue and lingo is believable to the point where it felt like I was listening to a couple of my Army buddies talk about their past combat experiences, the knowledge of weapons and the inner workings of the system are mapped out better than any I’ve ever seen. Great job, and for that the author deserves many kudos.
So yes, this is one fantastic book. Personally, combining the first two segments, I put it right up there, beneath only two other novels along the same vein by the two authors I mentioned earlier. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that there are some juicy hints in this volume about the nature of the illness that could—and should—be expanded upon later. The Killing Floor is a seminal work by one hell of a writer. I heartily recommend it, along with The Infection, its predecessor, to just about anybody. Absolutely virtuoso read…and there better be a third and climactic book coming soon.
This book, published by Permuted Press, was purchased by the reviewer.