Zombos Says: Good (but lacks finesse and character depth)
A body sat in the driver's seat. A charred skeleton, fingers welded to wheel plastic. No hair. Empty sockets. Lips burnt away, giving the corpse a mirthless smile.
Huang turned his back on the carbonised corpse. He reclipped his belt. He clipped the holster strap around his thigh.
Behind him, the driver of the sedan began to move.
There is one thing that has always bothered me about stories of deadly viruses and the crazy people looking to exploit them for mass destruction: glass cylinders. Think about it. From Resident Evil's T-Virus to every other movie where a deadly contagion is stored in a glass cylinder just begging to be cracked, shattered, or suspensefully mishandled, does it really make sense? Who in their right mind would put an unstoppable, world-destroying biological agent in a GLASS cylinder? So they could look at it and gloat dramatically? I'm thinking only movie script writers do it for 'easy tension' because we can see it and we know the glass is fragile; or maybe an author would do it, one who's seen too many of those movies written by those script writers.
At least Adam Baker doesn't waste words over that easy tension as his glass cylinder changes hands and he doesn't let anyone gloat over it. In his novel, Juggernaut, the tension comes from Black Ops looking for the mega-weapon they, of course, can't control, contained in that glass cylinder,and from mercenaries looking for gold, but being played as dupes, and from the parasite controlled revenants (what Baker calls the infected) looking to bite fresh flesh off in chunks.
You would expect a lot of tension to be generated from the mixing of all these plot elements, but Baker lacks the finesse to hone his paragraphs into razor sharpness to build it up. His overuse of clippy paragraphs (around the three sentence length), and clippy sentences (terse, grammatically-trouncing descriptives strung together), lessens the action's impact more than it peps it up. Instead, Baker pepper and salts his knowledge of military and covert operation jargon heavily over everything. Cryptic communiques appear here and there mentioning SPEKTR and the ongoing aftermath of a clandestine operation. SAW, the squad automatic weapon, sends bullets flying in droves, thermite grenades explode, and black SUVs carry people through dark narrow streets into ambush. But remove his razzle-dazzle army intelligence and spy veneer and what's left is a non-commissioned read, good for summer because it's fast moving, easy on the eyes and light on the story's soul, but still 'basic training' , not hardcore zombie or thriller fiction.
It's also the prequel to his Outpost, but self-contained. Had Baker put in more effort with his characters beyond a token lesbian relationship, buddy-buddy soldier of fortune cutouts , evil doers and mad scientists doing evil in the usual ways, and a derivative parasitic organism taking over soldiers, messing them up with metallic-like spines throughout their bodies, this would have been an excellent actioner. More attention to his people would have grounded them beyond their stereotypical roles, and the dialogs you would expect them to speak, and the acting in ways you would expect them to act. Not entirely a bad thing, as Baker makes full use of their actions and our expectations of them (with one key exception). His people don't surprise us, or grow smarter, or wet their pants when the revenants show up. Where Baker excels is his use of 2005 Iraq locations and real-life psycopaths like Uday Hussein to anchor his characters and situations around.
It starts with roughed-up mercenaries Lucy and Amanda found on a locomotive in the dessert, and unfolds with how they got there. It's about missions going bad but still ongoing, a promise of gold as lure to the Valley of Tears, and the revelation that something deadly and hungry is waiting in the dessert. Baker's one exception to our expectations is Jabril, sprung from Abu Ghraib, tour guide for Lucy and her mercenary crew. His unsavory backstory is told by him at key times when a flashback instead of his exposition would have been more exciting to read. Baker uses a character's exposition of past events to explain important details and the present, but at times it unexpectedly switches into flashback, then back to exposition. An arguably stylistic faux pas on Baker's part, but it doesn't disrupt the story's flow. The expositions are too well written, however, for spoken remembrances and serve only to tighten up loose ends.
Many of today's horror novels are written like movie adaptations before the movie comes out. That's not a bad thing in Juggernaut's case, but it keeps the novel from moving beyond a surface level of entertainment to find its depth in internal motivations and machinations like the ones older novels relied on to set themselves apart from the rest.
A courtesy copy was provided for this review.