Wayne Simmons, Fever (Snowbooks, 2011)
Fever is Wayne Simmons’ follow-up to the accomplished Flu. He takes the same basic tack here, though he changes things up a little in the way he presents the alternating stories (and, honestly, I feel like saying even that much about the way things unfold in this novel is a spoiler). As is usually the case with Simmons, the result is a cracking good read; this is, in my estimation, even one of the few cases where a novel’s sequel (judging by the ending, this is the middle volume in a trilogy) is a superior product to the original.
We start off by going back to the source: not long before the arresting opening of the first novel, we find ourselves in the government lab where the mutant strain of the flu is being developed, and the first part of the novel takes us through—and given the events of Flu, this cannot be a spoiler—the process of the virus getting out of quarantine and infecting Ireland. Now, I say that can’t be a spoiler, because three hundred fifty pages before this book even begins, you know the virus gets out and starts infecting people. That doesn’t mean the beginning of this book isn’t fraught with tension, however, nor that you won’t be wondering who lives and who dies, who our protagonists (Ellis, a young intern, and Abe, the facility’s affable security guard—you’ll be hearing him in Morgan Freeman’s voice throughout, and if you weren’t going to before, you will now; you’re welcome) can trust and who they can’t, etc. I want to tell you more about the last two-thirds of the book, but anything beyond this heads deep into spoiler territory; I will tell you that, eventually, among the many new characters, you’ll meet some old acquaintances along this trip.
It’s those characters, as it is in most of the horror fiction I find myself enjoying more than average, that make the tale here. Ever since he burst on the scene with Drop Dead Gorgeous a few years ago, Simmons has excelled in both coming up with characters quirky enough to still be quirky in a genre in part defined by the quirkiness of its characters, but still real enough, and individual enough, to resonate with readers. I am a believer in the idea that if you start with really, really good characters and internal consistency in (a) the situations you hand them and (b) their reactions to same, you really can’t go wrong in genre fiction. I don’t know whether Wayne Simmons has this same formula in his head, but he’s written to it in every novel of his I’ve read (this is my fourth, and if I am lucky, his most recent, Plastic Jesus, will be sitting in my mailbox when I get home from work today). It should then be no surprise that when it comes to modern horror fiction—even in a subgenre as glutted as the zombie novel—Wayne Simmons is one of my favorite writers going. It’s impossible, at least in my experience, to pick up a Wayne Simmons novel and not be satisfied with it on pretty much every level. If you haven’t discovered him yet, pick up Drop Dead Gorgeous and Flu, the two opening salvos in the series he’s currently got running, and strap yourself in for loads of fun. ****
An interview with Simmons about the first book in this series, Flu.