There’s a lot going on in Russell James’ new horror novel Q Island, perhaps too much. He keeps raising the stakes in this story of a pre-historic epidemic that hits Long Island, and although that might be appealing to some readers, it doesn’t always work. When fantastic things happen the reader needs to suspend disbelief, and this doesn’t happen when horrors are piled on horrors without adequate preparation. On the other hand if you can get yourself to buy into everything that happens on Q Island, you’ve got a roller coaster of ride waiting for you.
When an ancient plague is unleashed on the modern world by the discovery of the frozen remains of an infected wooly mammoth, the strange disease transmitted in a variety ways rapidly invades the local population. At first patients experience a burst of creativity, but soon they become dangerously irrational and attack anyone around them until they seem to burst explosively. Very soon those not affected by the disease band together to defend themselves, and the Island is quarantined. Things get more complicated when it seems that everyone who becomes infected doesn’t necessarily react in the same way.
The progress of the disease and the attempts of the population to deal with it are narrated through the experiences of four major characters. There is a housewife with an autistic son, a nurse who is blinded in one eye by an infected patient, a doctor who had worked on disease eradication in Africa, and a small time crook who finds himself able to take advantage of the terrifying situation. And while the plot lines for some of these characters are more interesting and believable than others, they come together to make for some interesting, if not always easy to believe, reading.
Although in some sense Q Island is reminiscent in its basic plot of the apocalyptic narratives currently hugely popular—narratives like The Strain and Fear the Walking Dead, this particular apocalypse seems limited geographically. If James could manage to get some of the infected through the Mid-town Tunnel and onto the island of Manhattan, he might well have a franchise going.
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