BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A flu outbreak in Northern Ireland overcomes quarantine efforts as the dead rise and survival efforts bring out the worst in most people.
PROS: A few memorable scenes; Irish accent in narration added to immersive experience.
CONS: Characters mostly unlikable; rambling plot; obtrusive prose.
BOTTOM LINE: The story is dominated by people being jerks, mixed in with some zombies, and ends up with more head-scratching than nail-biting moments, leaving this reader uninterested in any sequels.
The version of Flu used for this review is the audiobook version put out by Tantor Media and narrated by Michael Kramer. Flu starts out with two police officers responding to another report of a new flu virus so bad that the government is forcing anyone infected to be quarantined in their homes and left to die. These two officers have to battle an angry mob to get up to the apartment in question. The tension from the crowd and the officer’s morality struggles (seen from his point of view) make for a very exciting introduction. The narrator’s Irish accent helps ground the setting and makes the experience more lifelike.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story squandered this initial interest. The main reason was the lack of interest in the characters. Flu explores dirty cops, bad husbands, rapists, drug addicts, a corrupt military, mad scientists, NRA fugitives, and inserts a couple of strong women in an unsatisfying effort to evoke sympathy and create romance. While these character aspects are fine to include in fiction, the way the author draws these characters annoyed more often than it sparked interested. The end result was the impression of wasted time in an unremarkable plot. An example of this was depicting a guy urinating on zombies to tie the knot in one of the romance threads. That this is a turning point in that “romance” (for the better) was laughably hard to believe.
One of the problems with the plot hinges on the fact that the main characters are stationary for most of the novel. Since the characterization involved in this process fell flat, the drama taking place within their hiding places wasn’t all that interesting. Looking back, there were only a few excellent scenes. By the end of the novel, all of the interest built in the exciting prelude was gone. One head-scratcher at the end involved a message — confusing because if the person who presumably wrote it wouldn’t have known how to write that message, nor is the message revelatory at that point anyway. Another oddity is the whole side plot of the corrupt military officer and the mad scientist, which resolves out of left field in what felt like an effort to manufacture fear at the bizarre, but came off like an inorganic way of explaining, unsuccessfully, what the off-screen antagonists were up to. Additionally, some aspects of the writing style drew negative attention to itself: telling more than showing; predictably frequent similes, and for most of the novel it seemed “Jesus Christ” was the only swear word used in Ireland.
I liked the idea of the initial setup in a world where the flu is this dangerous, and what it would have been like to be a cop quarantining people, but in some kind of attempt to show the people quarantined by society, the story and characters failed to keep my interest in this series.