Ferocious by Jeff Strand
Ferocious is as good as its cover: within a chapter or two of (excellent) character-building for the two leads, it’s zombie bears, wolves, and… squirrels?… against a fifty-year-old outdoorsman and his very capable niece.
The writing is tight, the chapters end in tantalizing cliffhangers, and this book simply flies by between giggles and rather disturbing mental images. It’s worth a note that animal lovers might want to skip this one… but hey, the animals are dead already, and Strand plays with the “zombie” theme enough to make this a completely bananas “man versus nature” roller-coaster ride.
The “rules” are simple, once revealed (not a spoiler, unless you’ve never seen a horror movie before). A portion of remote forest inexplicably has its wildlife go aggressively post-mortem, and they soon attack and surround a secluded pair of what for all intents and purposes is a father-daughter team. The duo is “Stranded” (go ahead, groan) three miles from their pickup, which is stuck—hence it being three miles away.
It is a long, long three miles. With very few exceptions, if a forest critter scares you, it will be included, and it will try to kill your heroes.
While the summary of plot is basic, Strand lifts this out of the zombie rut. Rusty, the aging lead, is human and humane, and he’s quite reluctant to commit wanton violence. And it will take violence, because these zombies aren’t going down without a fight, nor are they slow (or sped-up, thankfully), and even the “brain” rule doesn’t apply. Break-out the Cuisinart.
It seemed a nice touch that the characters were secluded, and somewhat antisocial (Rusty in particular), but were not reduced to a couple of hillbillies cackling as they butchered bears into stew stock.
If there is a minor complaint or two in Ferocious, a battered chainsaw makes fast work of flesh and bone, and continues to operate at full-throttle capacity even when out of its operator’s hands. So, the leads get a dose of help from this minor upgrade/detail (and they need a little help). In short, one gets the sense Jeff didn’t do the necessary hands-on research that would be required to know exactly how to dismember a bear with a dropped chainsaw. Next time!
So do you worry about grizzlies? Wolves? Bobcats? Deer? Snakes? Woodpeckers? This forest is bursting (hah!) with life, or what was life, and, with trusty chainsaw and axe and board, Rusty and Mia are loaded for bear and worse—and they need to be. A general highlight in Strand’s writing is a lack of description of the main characters… due to the exceptional humor and dialogue, the reader feels invested deeply in their fates, despite knowing next to nothing aside from the age and gender of the leads. And, it being a Strand book, humor is replete. But that doesn’t mean the heroes won’t suffer to the point of torture… and they may or may not make it to the end.
It’s truly amazing what Strand manages to do with just two characters. With the possible exception of “imbed” (embed?) there’s hardly a re-used word in page after page of complete mayhem; yet the action is never dull, and rarely ceases.
And that’s the end of that: if you have a soft spot for laughter, gore, and have always wanted an upgraded take on Day of the Animals (yes, I’m old, but that movie is killer), this should be on your Kindle or shelf, like, yesterday.