A year ago, as Executive Producer Brad was preparing to head off to London for a convention appearance, I warned him to be careful: “I don’t know whether or not they’ve sorted out that whole zombie situation.”.
“Zombie situation?”he asked.
“Yeah,”I said. “Like in that documentary – 28 Days Later.”
The gang at work were fairly insistent that 28 Days Later was NOT, in fact, a documentary and, while that may be debatable, it’s certainly beside the point. I still hold that one of the most unsettling aspects of the movie was not the zombie horde but the city of London itself. Bleak, cold, and ominous – it incited a terror in me akin to what I used to experience as a young boy sitting on my grandmother’s couch watching the black and white opening credits to Coronation Street.
That self-same grimness and sense of overwhelming trepidation pervades the London of Conrad Williams’ The Unblemished, a novel that transforms the city from familiar backdrop to active, albeit unwilling, player in a circus of bloodletting and grisly horror. It’s just one of the many disquieting elements that raise this book well above similar offerings of the genre.
That said, The Unblemished is, at times, very difficult to read. Not because it’s bad, mind you, but just the opposite. Author Williams is very good at what he does, painting a luridly vivid picture of the mayhem and madness that runs throughout. His narrative style is almost poetic, striking in its ability to captivate in spite of the gruesome subject matter. It’s the literary equivalent of coming across a terrible accident and not being able to look away. Williams draws you in and, once he has you, refuses to let go, whisking the reader along on a terrifying ride through a novel that proves as lyrical and beguiling as it does disconcerting and, quite frankly, off-putting. It’s in-your-face horror of the most visceral sort and the squeamish should steer well clear.
The novel opens with a distrubing attack on a young couple, then proceeds to jump back and forth between various characters – a musician burdened with a cursed ability following a chance encounter with some mysterious stranger, a mother and catatonic daughter on the run from a sadistic thug, an aged serial killer intent on attaining malevolent heights – amid the gruesome incursion of a race of creatures, banished five centuries ago, who have returned to exact a terrible revenge.
And somewhat terribly sloppy revenge at that given they often fail to fully dispatch of their victims, leading to all sorts of nasty consequences for those targeted. It’s mighty grisly stuff and yet, despite the copious bloodletting, I never found it excessive (EXCEPT in the case of hitman Manser and his particular fetish that I felt crossed the line). While it was tough to connect with any of the characters – two sadistic murderers, an unresponsive Claire, a losing-his-grip-on-his-sanity Bo who was a pretty odd bird to begin with, and Sarah whose single-minded concern for her daughter’s safety elicits an initial sympathy that gradually gives way to frustration and disbelief – they were all well-drawn and author Williams does a bang-up job of tracking their respective emotional and psychological descents.
In the past, when I’ve selected horror novels for our little Book of the Month Club and had some respond to the effect of “I don‘t read horror.”, I’ve often dismissed them as unusually sensitive. Well, halfway through The Unblemished, I found myself hoping that some of those same readers didn’t attempt the foray this month. It’s a dark and disturbingly relentless journey of unparalleled intensity. Surreal. Nightmarish. And, when all is said and done, scary as hell.
So, those are my initial thoughts. Would love to hear from those who tested the dark waters. What did you think? And if you have questions for author Conrad Williams, start posting!
PG15 writes: “ 1. Is the freelancer-written episode, episode 14?
2. Let me bring out this old chestnut again, from March 16th:
Brad then pytched out hys revysed notion for an ydea he’s been battyng around for a whyle now. A great premyse wyth an yntryguing mystery at yts core, a wonderful opportunyty for one of our characters, all wrapped up in a an ultymately touchyng theme.
Is this the episode that you referenced when you said today that “Carl will move from Faith to that story Brad pitched out“?
3. Who’s writing the thrilling Season finale?”
Answers: 1. 13 and 14.
3. Either Brad or Robert.
and Life is at 9, Justice 10 and so on. Is that article up the creek?”
Answer: Nope. I am.
Nadine writes: “How are the dogs doing? I saw that pic of Maximus (so cute!) – they’re all doing well? Jelly’s endocarditis is under control? Is she on meds for it?”
Answer: All the dogs are great. Hope Bella is on her way to a full recovery.
Ava writes: “btw. it was Maximus on the twitter pic ? That smiley face is a t-shirt material. It made my day”
Answer: Yep, that was Maximus yukking it up.
Mirjam writes: “I can’t believe you read EVERY comment EVERY day. Do you? Well, I guess whether or not you will answer this question answers THAT question.”
Answer: Yes, every comment. Except this one.