by Bill Braddock
Published by Permuted Press
Review by Jacqueline Patricks
Ever been to a big college town on a football Saturday night? Loud drunks glut the streets, swaggering about in roaring, leering, laughing packs, like sailors on shore leave. These nights crackle with a dark energy born of incongruity; for beneath all that smiling and singing sprawls a bedrock of malice.
Erupting from this mean soil is BREW, a novel of survival horror that unfolds in a single, apocalyptic night, when hard-partying College Heights swaps beer pong and karaoke for arson, murder, and cannibalism. An embattled cast of unlikely heroes, including a charismatic drug dealer, a disenfranchised army vet, and a smart, tough-as-leather girl, struggles to survive, while Herbert Weston, the brilliant sociopath who engineered the entire catastrophe, strolls the chaos, fulfilling sadistic fantasies. One minute, everyone's having a blast, partying it up after another football victory; the next minute, all those crowded bars, balconies, and house parties look like so many acres of hell.
Brew starts off the morning after the last insane 24 hours. A character calling himself doc, due to being a medical doctor, wakes up wearing only boxers and sneakers in a room he doesn't recognize. He inventories his wounds, and then discovers a seriously injured woman in the hallway. As he tries to help this stranger, she obviously recognizes him and freaks out. Then two things happen: He suddenly remembers that she's a neighbor he's long admired from afar, and he really, really wants to taste her intestines—the ones she's cradling from a hole in her gut. What the hell happened yesterday? He certainly doesn't remember, and we're left intrigued and flipping pages faster than you can say zombie apocalypse.
Now that's what I call a hook. I wanted to know what happened to doc, but unfortunately he's a very minor player in his disaster. We find out, sort of, but it's a bit part and if you blink you'll miss it. The major players are Steve, Cat, Demetrius, Joel, and Herbert. Other characters weave in and out as we go along, we see some resolutions, others we don't, but overall we get a solid sense of what happens to everyone. After all, there's only so many descriptive scenes of gore and violence before the premise becomes redundant. Not that I have a problem with either--not me--but sooner or later one gets numb to the whole concept.
Speaking of gore and violence, Brew, definitely delivers. Slasher genre at its finest, this book is all about how many ways can co-eds, meatheads, and anyone standing in their way get sliced, diced, chewed up, run over, set on fire, mauled, eaten alive, and so forth. Think a rated R Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Beer Bad episode plus Zombie Apocalypse plus a Greenpeace prank plus the 24 hour flu, and you'll have a good idea of Brew.
The underlying message is about how people turn their brains off in the 21st century. People don't help people anymore; they don't connect without electronic devices; and they certainly don't think for themselves. This message, however, is somewhat lost in the rush to be a gore-fest The villain, Herbert, is so intent on killing everyone, that if he ever had a deeper message he's forgotten it. Jessie, a member of Green, is such a minor character we never get to hear Green's message other than 'people are putting too many chemicals in their bodies'. And the heroes Steve, Cat, and Demetrius seem to sense that there's something bigger than themselves to fight for, yet again the gore-fest overwhelms them too. There's just too much going on for anything clear to be heard.
But maybe that's the message. The modern world is full of too much noise, too much crap, too many people screaming—memememe—that it's easy to lose sight of the important things and focus on the selfish gods of money and indulgence. I think that's a big reason why zombies are so popular these days. We're afraid we're becoming soulless, brainless monsters.
As for Mr. Braddock's writing, overall I found it very strong, very vivid without being overdone. There's little fat in his prose. He gets right to the point, and the majority of the time you understand exactly what's happening in gory detail.
I did have a problem with a couple of plot points. Steve's deus ex machina gut knowledge about the beer, which would've been acceptable had Steve had previous gut reactions about other things. But this just didn't fly, especially since he finally listened to his voicemail from Jessie a short while later and that answered the question about the beer, duh, thereby solving the mystery without a silly deus insertion (duh, you'd get that...snicker). He should have either dropped the beer scene, or had the suspense broken some other way.
Plus I didn't like how the chemicals in the beer all triggered at the exact same moment. WTF? I'm in the medical field, and it's incredibly hard to predict medication release timing in oral intake in two different people let alone hundreds. He should've written it as more of a staggered release. I get that there's suspension of belief, but that's way out there. People react differently to different dosages at different times depending on so many factors, to have so many flip at the same time is just so… wrong. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story, but it made the science less fun.
Plus Herbert as a villain was very one dimensional. I get that we really are supposed to hate him, but it would've been fun to make him a much more tortured villain. Sure we hate him, but we understand why he flipped out, maybe even have some sympathy. But he's just too easy to hate. So is Joel. So many people get very much what they deserve in this book, which is why it's hard to be upset when anyone dies, gets eaten, mauled, or beaten up. I mean… who cares?
Even Steve is a drug dealer estranged from his family. Who cares about drug dealers? You? So when Steve and Cat kind of, sort of, maybe fall in love in this 24 hours, meh, who cares? There's so much insanity going on that anything potentially pure is ruined. Which just begs the question of the modern world being too disconnected. I had fun reading the gore-fest, but I wasn't shocked. I'm already jaded by my job as a medic and the world in general. This is a bad thing.
MINI SPOILER And Steve and Cat have sex, btw. They find the time to chill out and have sex, lol! END SPOILER
OF COURSE THEY DO! But we don't see it, because Permuted Press loves gore and violence, but they're not into graphic sex. LOL, they *cough* draw the line at *cough* graphic sex. Gee, why bother? You don't mind showing Joel getting ready to make porn and talking about erect penises and zombie-people eating the co-ed, but whatever you do DON'T show the graphic scene of two people who might, sort of, kind of, maybe be falling in insta-love having positive, life-affirming sex.
THINK OF THE CHILDREN!
The hypocrisy, it burns!
Overall, Brew is an engrossing, entertaining read. For those who enjoy slasher-fests and want to turn off their brain for a day, I highly recommend Bill Braddock's Brew. It delivers the fast-paced, pulse pounding, gore and violence any true zombie fan desires with a touch of bittersweet romance to boot.
Contains Language, Gore, Violence, mild sexual scenes, nudity.
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*I received a free copy to review for my honest opinion.*