The Condemned
David Jack Bell
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Buy *The Condemned* by David Jack Bell

The Condemned
David Jack Bell
Delirium Books
224 pages
January 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In a not so distant future, the city’s water supply is tainted by terrorists, turning many of its inhabitants into night-ruling mindless dead called City People. Quarantined and guarded by the military, men working for the government drive wreckers in every day to pick up abandoned cars and anything else that can be used for scrap metal. Since the world is at war every single bit is needed to make weapons and society is struggling as the result.

Jett Dormer is a reclamation driver and has been having some bad dreams lately. They are fueled by guilt over a recent incident where he and partner Vince stayed in the city after nightfall and, after an ambush by City People, Jett left Vince to become one of them. Except for Vince’s widow, no one blames him, and when he returns to work after the memorial service, he is welcomed and quickly given a new partner.

Jett calls his new partner The Kid and takes an instant dislike to him. Just returned home from the war, The Kid is jaded, disillusioned, and a borderline sociopath who eagerly and violently murders sleeping City People. Jett decides to keep him as a partner however, because he has formed a plan to find Vince and bring his body home for a proper burial. Jett knows he does not possess the strength to do it on his own and needs The Kid’s fearlessness to bolster his courage.

Jett does not know it, but this decision changes his destiny from average family man to tragic hero, for in the search for Vince, he finds that the City People are not as everyone believes, and that the government has perpetrated a cunning deception that puts everyone at risk.

This book is a great addition to the zombie genre and reads quickly, more like a novella. The written story is tight as a drum, with no extraneous words or actions to distract the reader. Action and dream sequences are fast and brutal. The zombies themselves have their own peculiarities that unfold throughout the story to reveal a stunning departure from the classic definition.

Many moral dilemmas are presented in this story. Jett gives up his wife and child and becomes a murderer in order to honor a promise to Vince’s widow and then, as information about the City People is unearthed, becomes a criminal conspirator to expose government lies. The temptation to mind his own business and put his head in the sand is always present, especially since he deeply loves his family. The more he finds out about the humanity of the City People, the clearer his choices become. He valiantly perseveres, knowing the consequences for himself may be dire. The open ending is both frustrating and exciting as there is a possibility for a sequel.

Many plot scenarios are taken directly from today’s headlines, yet Bell ingeniously reconstructs them into the science fiction and horror genre. All his characters are flawed, right down to the beaurocratic boss and bitter widow, yet form a sympathetic picture of humanity, where there are few actual heroes and many burned out and disillusioned. I was very impressed and hope to see more of his work in the future.

David Jack Bell is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. His work has appeared in several journals and anthologies.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Jaimie Bell, 2008

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