Monday mystery-The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

In June 1942, the population of Pascagoula swelled as increased demand for warships and supplies drew large numbers into the town. The local economy was booming, but in the long shadows of a wartime summer, something haunted the streets at night.

The man nicknamed the Phantom Barber by newspapers worked in the darkness. This was made easy by army blackout regulations, which left whole areas of the town without light for several hours at a time.  On Monday or Friday evenings, he slit a window screen to gain access to a house, crept inside, and cut the hair of sleeping occupants, particularly blonde girls. Not satisfied with only a lock or two, he sometimes pushed so far as to shear a whole head of hair. He took nothing else from the home except his prize, left his victims sleeping and unharmed.

He began with two young girls in the convent of Our Lady of Victories, followed by a six year old female child visiting another family. That time, he left a clue—the print of a man’s bare foot in sand on an unoccupied bed in the room. The police were baffled. Three hundred dollars was put up as a reward for information that might help catch the phantom. The public was in a panic. Women refused to go outside at night. Men applied for pistol permits. Bloodhounds were brought in to track the bizarre intruder, but the efforts failed.

At last, the phantom broke his pattern, or so it seemed. A window screen was slit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Terrell Heidelburg, and the intruder came inside their bedroom. However, rather than cutting hair, he brutally assaulted the couple. Mrs. Heidelburg lost her front teeth and was knocked unconscious, while her husband was beaten with a metal bar. Both survived the attack. Two months later, the police chief announced the arrest of a suspect, William A. Dolan, a chemist, who was charged with attempted murder.

A connection between Dolan and the Phantom Barber came with the discovery of human hair allegedly found near his residence. He continued to deny he was the phantom, and while convicted of the attack on the Heidelburgs—he bore a grudge against Terrell’s father, a judge—was never charged with the phantom’s acts. Since the Phantom Barber never touched his victims other than their hair, it would seem no meaningful tie exists between Dolan and the Phantom Barber, whose break-ins ended as mysteriously as they began.

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Chewsday-June 24th

The world cup is well underway now, with most teams fighting out their last group games for pride or progress. Portugal are finding their return to their former colony isn’t as triumphant as when they first came conquering. In fact, Portugal are used to victory in the field. The Portuguese have etched out the tenth largest empire in known world history. This came in 1815, when Portugal controlled over 4 million square miles, or to put it roughly, about one fifteenth of the earth’s land belonged to Portugal. So what empire was the biggest?

It seems the obvious answer to this would be the roman empire, right? I mean,Veni, vidi, vici; I came, I saw, I conquered. The truth is rather shocking. Rome actually only represents the seventeenth greatest empire, much smaller than the Portuguese,but respectable given their methods of transport. The largest was actually that of the British Empire, which at its height in the aftermath of the Great War in 1922 was over 12 million square miles, which is over a fifth of the world’s land. A part of me likes to think we Irish were behind the great collapse, given the year in it (note this part represents no known historical basis, but hey, give us this one). Behind that, the Mongols and the Russians make up spots two and three. 

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Much of this World Cup is centering as usual around controversial refereeing decisions. Some of the greatest moments in World Cup history have come down to referees, such as allowing the England goal to stand in ’66, or dismissing Zidane after he went headbutting in 2006. Only moments ago, Suarez put his own meaning to “Chewsday”, though I’m sure he only reads my blog from time to time. John Langenus refereed the first world cup final in Uruguay in 1930. Langenus first undertook his refereeing exam only to fail it when he wrongly answered a question posed by examiners. The question asked of him was: “What is the correct procedure if the ball strikes a low-flying plane?”. Langenus did not answer and failed the exam. One of the major talking points under his officiating was an incident involving one of the US medical staff, after Langenus had given a foul against one of the American players; “the team’s medical attendant raced, bellicose, on to the field, to berate Langenus. Having had his say, he flung his box of medicines to the ground, the box burst open, various bottles smashed, including one full of chloroform, and its fumes rose to overpower the American. He was helped from the field.”

Having been selected to watch over the final, which was played between the host nation and the ever-passionate Argentinians, he demanded a quick escape route to his ship after the final occurred, in case any controversy surrounded him. So though we may whinge still over the wrong decisions that have swung the pendulum in some of the most hotly-contested games, we re safe in the knowledge that refereeing has gone to great lengths before for the game, and should do again.

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Monday Mystery-Hinterkaifeck

Hinterkaifeck, a small farmstead situated between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen (approximately 70 km north of Munich), was the scene of one of the most puzzling crimes in German history. On the evening of March 31, 1922, the six inhabitants of the farm were killed with a mattock (similar to a pickaxe). The murder is still unsolved.

The victims were Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber, their widowed daughter Viktoria, her children Cäzilia and Joseph and the maid, Maria Baumgartner. It was rumored that Andreas and Viktoria had an incestuous relationship, and that Joseph was their two year old son. Hinterkaifeck was never an official place name. The name was used for the remote farmstead of the hamlet of Kaifeck, located nearly 1 kilometer north of the main part. It was hidden in the woods, and isolated from its neighbours.

A few days prior to the crime, farmer Andreas Gruber told neighbours about discovering footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm, but none leading back. He also spoke about hearing footsteps in the attic in the dead of night, and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, the house keys went missing several days before the murders, but none of this was reported to the police.

Six months earlier, the previous maid had left the farm, claiming that it was haunted. The new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived on the farm on 31 March, only a few hours before her death.Exactly what happened on that Friday evening cannot be said for certain. It is believed that the older couple, as well as their daughter Viktoria and her daughter Cäzilia, were somehow all lured into the barn one by one, where they were killed. The murderer(s) then went into the house where they found and killed two-year-old Josef who was sleeping in the cot in his mother’s bedroom, as well as the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in her bed-chamber.

On the following Tuesday, the 4th of April, some neighbours went to the farmstead because none of the inhabitants had been seen for several days, which was rather unusual. The postman had noticed that the post from the previous Saturday was still where he had left it. Furthermore, young Cäzilia had not turned up for school on Monday, nor had she been there on Saturday.

Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department made immense efforts investigating the killings. More than 100 suspects have been questioned through the years, but to no avail. The death of Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband who had been reported killed in the French trenches in 1914, was called into question. His body had never been found. The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and interrogated several inhabitants from the surrounding villages, as well as travelling craftsmen and vagrants. The robbery theory was, however, abandoned when a large amount of money was found in the house. It is believed that the perpetrator(s) remained at the farm for several days – someone had fed the cattle, and eaten food in the kitchen: the neighbours had also seen smoke from the chimney during the weekend – and anyone looking for money would have found it. The case laid active even in the 1980s, where people were still fruitlessly questioned. Today the motive remains unclear, and the killer will never be known.

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The City by Stella Gemmell-Game of Thrones meets roman history

It was curiosity that made me pick up this fantasy novel. Firstly, the cover was shiny and well designed. Granted that’s the worst reason ever to buy something, but I stand by it. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the name stood out. Gemmell, a name not unused in the fantasy novel world. So it came as no surprise when I found out the author, Stella Gemmell, was wife to the late fantasy best-seller, David Gemmell.

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The City is the debut fantasy novel of Stella Gemmell (though granted she has worked on some of David’s books in the past). Coming into the game as a former journalist, the question as to whether this could succeed was just as intriguing as the summary itself. At circa seven hundred pages in this re-published edition, the book seemed to justify purchase. The premise of the story was basic enough at first glance; a large city is at war with its neighbours, but deep beneath it all, something else could be going on. The City is ruled by the omniscient emperor, a man they call the immortal, and one who is rarely seen outside the palace. Five noble families, claimed by some to be god-like, govern the city in its entirety, and help to raise armies to fight the war that is raging on all fronts. But below the city something else is stirring. We first meet Elijah, Emly, and the old man Bartellus, each of them living in a sewer world where the forgotten go to die or the remembered go to hide. The underworld teems with rats, murderers and conspiracy. Outside on the mainland, characters like Fell Aron Lee and the warrior woman Indaro are locked in combat with the enemy, known widely as “Blueskins”.

With flood waters rising, the foundations of the city begin to crumble, but its the people’s belief in their emperor that is truly showing the signs of faltering. The reader is cast forward eight years, where each of our characters is now on a path unknown to them that will lead them all to a plot to end the war. Our characters now fight their beliefs, their virtues and their morals, rather than the multi-national enemy which is pressing its advantage in the field of battle.

Personally I found the opening to this novel compelling. Gemmell succeeds in giving us an interesting setting to start with; that of a subterranean world haunted by cannibals and the ever potent darkness. Many of the author’s characters achieve independence in the mind of the reader, though later on when the novel propels eight years into the future, earlier characters now lose their distinctive flavour as we leave the sewer world in favour of the nation’s battlefields. The chapters of Fell Aron Lee and Indaro make this transition easier, as their world is interesting enough to help us keep going. Fell Aron Lee, now a leader of his own battalion is given a fascinating backstory which really ties the whole piece together, and perhaps marks him as one of the primary characters.

Characterisation of the emperor is done in such a way as to always leave the reader guessing, a purposeful act I would assume. The other noble families emerge to the reader in the middle of the book, and take on a very “Lannister” feel-the reader never certain exactly what it is they want. Gemmell done this for both factions of the war, a feature which makes our opening premise that The City is the good side increasingly doubtful.

The third quarter of the novel, when the writer skillfully weaves her separate threads into one piece is easily the best part of the novel. At this point we really feel the ‘oh so that’s why x happened’ surfacing, a knack I always appreciate in a good fantasy novel, as it shows the writer’s aptitude for controlling their story. Here, Gemmell also begins to blur the edges of her timeline, so events happen out of sync with one another, and as multiple characters now show up in each chapter, the pace seems to quicken and the tension comes across quite well.

The climax, for me, was the only disappointment. Well, perhaps the loss of individualized characters near the end was also  cause to complain, but this is a common aspect we overlook in the fantasy genre. The ending seemed far too dragged out, with my eyes alarmingly noticing there was a hundred and fifty pages left when I felt things should have been wrapping up. I imagine Gemmell wanted the ending to be significant, and not just end in a chapter or two as is common when writers see the finishing line in sight. That being said, I feel Gemmell lost control of her conspirator notions at this point, and segments of the story that probably should have showed up earlier if they were at all significant jumped right into the closing stages. The fighting scenes at the climax came across as languid and only present to chop down some of the less pivotal players in the game. given the third quarter of the book, I think Gemmell unfortunately gave the reader too much freedom in imagining things as they wanted,so that the alternative ending she actually wrote did not fit what it feels they were promised. For example, George RR Martin,who promises you pretty much from the start that you had best not get attached to anything or anyone, avoids disappointing in this sense after the first novel. Gemmell however, had the task of keeping the reader interested in her characters, while also providing the bitter-sweet ending the novel probably needed for realism, all in one book. Thus, we kind of leave with a sour taste in our mouth, as though we were betrayed. It’s features such as this that spur on the world of fantasy fiction, where spurned readers lash out with their own alternative ending. But some aspects of the finish did keep me satisfied, and overall even a shocking ending would not have diminished the respect which was already building up in me for the author on her maiden voyage in the fantasy realm.

So, if asked, I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in fantasy/historical fiction. It avoids outlandish fantasy for much of the book, so that you don’t need to be #GandalfsNumberOneFan to enjoy the plot. Given the third quarter may have been one of the best I’ve read since Martin had Ned Stark snooping around King’s Landing, I would give this book an A, and hope Gemmell churns out something else soon.

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Chewsday-June 17th

One year today since the blog went live!This week it’s another two rather obscure facts; one on ship disasters and a second on World Cup football, which now features two weeks in a row in the spirit of the games.

The most popularised ship disaster of all time is that of the RMS Titanic; the supposed unsinkable ship, which went down in 1912 after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage. The rest, rather like a cliché, is history. With a death toll of over fifteen hundred, and with the majority of its male and lower class passengers (or if very unlucky-both male and lower class) going down with the ship (a cliché again I’m afraid), the story of the Titanic has won its place in history rightfully. The Titanic sunk during peacetime, with it’s massive hull striking the Atlantic floor some time before Europe imploded into war. But in war, even civilian ships become targets. Such was the case with the Lusitania, a ship sunk by German naval power leaving nearly 1200 people dead. And so comes our first fact: what exactly is the worst wartime maritime disaster?

One of the least known multi-ship disasters is that of the English armada (yes, not the Spanish). Coming some time after the Spanish calamity, the renowned Sir Francis Drake helped lead the English into a 15,000 man blood bath. Course we never hear that story, do we? What is regarded as possibly the worst single ship disaster in history is that of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This German evacuation ship (carrying some Nazi officials and troops, but majorly acting as a civilian transport) sailed into the Baltic Sea and met its end by three torpedo shots. Coming at the start of 1945 when the war was all but lost for Hitler, over nine thousand people are estimated to have been killed during the sinking, some seven or eight times the amount that were lost during the Lusitania attack.

Lazarettschiff  "Wilhelm Gustloff" in Danzig

On a brighter and more relevant note, we look at another World Cup fact. Giuseppe Meazza is widely regarded by football experts to be one of the greatest players in World Cup history. Playing for Italy in the 1930s, his goals helped lead Italy to two trophies in 1934 (in which he won the golden boot) and 1938. He scored 33 times for Italy. One of the most memorable (but least known) World Cup goals came in the 1938 semi-finals, where Italy played host to Brazil. Italy were awarded a penalty after Silvio Piola, the team’s new center forward, was chopped down in the box by “the Divine Master”, Domingos da Guia. The Brazilian goalkeeper Walter, who was famous for hypnotizing his opponents and for saving penalties back in Brazil, arrogantly claimed he was certain he would save the shot. Meazza confidently stepped up, but having been the target of Brazilian tackles throughout the match, saw his shorts fall down during his run up due to the elastic having suffered damage. Still with his eyes fixed on goal, the prolific scorer held up his shorts by one hand and continued his run to place the ball into the net, with the Brazilian keeper still busy laughing at the situation in front of him.The goal stood, and Italy went on to win the 1938 World cup, much to Meazza’s relief of course, who was left a telegram by Mussolini reading “Win or die!” before the tournament.

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Monday Mystery-The Phantom Whistler of Louisiana

Who doesn’t love a good mystery on a Monday? This week, our mystery is from state-side.

Back in 1950, newspapers were full of the story of the Phantom Whistler of Louisiana. The Whistler was terrorizing a young woman, 18-year-old Jacqueline Cadow. In February, Jacquelyn Cadow of Paradis, Louisiana began hearing wolf whistles outside her bedroom window at night. The home she shared with her mother was also broken into by an intruder. The authorities were notified on several occasions, but nothing became of it, even when the media became involved. Night after night, she heard the same whistles of the phantom until she announced her engagement to State Trooper Herbert Belsom. Then, the harassment grew worse, and the whistles changed to a funeral dirge. The authorities suspected a man at this time and sometimes he would follow this dirge with a “blood-curdling moan.”

Around this time, Jacquelyn also received telephone threats, the voice on the other end of the call promising to come to her home and stick a knife in her if she went ahead with her marriage. Jacquelyn suffered a collapse when she, her mother, her aunt, and a New Orleans States-Item reporter heard the whistler at work. The reporter and Belsom searched the yard, but found no one. The harassed woman tried staying with relatives. The whistler soon followed. And when she went to the home of Belsom’s parents (her then fiancé), the whistler called her mother with a message: “Tell Jackie I know she’s at Herbert’s house”.

On October 1, she and Belsom married. No incident occurred at the ceremony, and the whole thing came to a close. At first, the local sheriff claimed the whole thing was a hoax, even inciting on one occasion that it was an “inside job” and no real danger was ever present. However soon after the sheriff changed his story to say the whistler had been caught, though no charges were ever recorded or names released to the media. Jacquelyn never reported again to the police on the subject. Was the phantom a hoax, or was someone really at the window? Did he give up after the marriage happened, spurned by Jacquelyn’s choice or perhaps afraid he would eventually get caught? It is hard to know. Who was the phantom whistler and why did he choose to terrify Jacquelyn Cadow? We’ll never know.

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Chewsday-June 10th

What better day than Tuesday to have two facts to chew on for a week or so? None! That’s why starting this week I’m gonna give ye two facts to sit back and think about. Not bad for a Tuesday.

1. The scale of the Rwandan genocide.

Not an optimistic one to start on, but it comes in to my head from time to time. Of course, most of western culture would be somewhat familiar with the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, a true story of Tutsis saved during the Rwandan genocide. Although the movie does touch on the massacre elsewhere, the overall result if looked at is terrifying. At 8:30 p.m. on April 6, 1994, President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda was returning from a summit in Tanzania when a surface-to-air missile shot his plane out of the sky over Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. All on board were killed in the crash. Although it has never been determined who was truly responsible for the assassination, Hutu extremists profited the most from Habyarimana’s death. Within 24 hours after the crash, Hutu extremists had taken over the government, blamed the Tutsis for the assassination, and begun the slaughter.

In short, over a hundred day period roughly 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus (who sympathized/helped the Tutsis) were slaughtered. This does not even begin to take into account the countless rapes and other war crimes that occurred. So we reach our fact : using simple maths we can take from these figures that nearly 6 Tutsis were killed every minute…consistently…for one hundred days. This dwarfs the killing rate of the Black Death easily and towers even over Hitler at the height of his ‘final solution’. Just a scary thought when we consider this was happening in our lifetime.

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2. Just Fontaine

Given the World Cup is finally about to hit our screens, I thought a good fact about this would be appreciated. One of the ongoing talking points in the build up to Brazil is the inclusion of Miroslav Klose in Germany’s squad. The rather aged striker (36 years) is now setting off to his fourth World Cup, an accomplishment that has seen him net fourteen times and remain only one shy of Brazil’s own Ronaldo as the player with the highest tally of World Cup goals. Of course Gerd Muller, also a German, is tied with Klose on fourteen goals too, and rather impressively he did this in only 13 world cup games (Ronaldo and Klose are 19 a-piece). With a goal/ game average of 1.08 over two games, Muller is king right? Not exactly.

First off Sandor Kocsis has the highest goal/game average having slammed home 11 goals in the ’54 finals, a feat he achieved with the then unbeaten Hungarian national side. But who needs averages when we have more goals? At least that what France’s Just Fontaine would say. He appeared in the 1958 finals (remembered fondly as the games that announced Pele to the world stage) and managed to score THIRTEEN goals in just six matches.

Unfortunately for the french it was to be Pele’s day, as his hat-trick in their semi-final tie saw them pummel the French 5-2. Just Fontaine did net another three impressively in the third place play-off against defending champions West Germany, but then it was curtains. Forced to retire early at twenty-eight due to recurring injuries, his name faded out of history pretty quickly as the Brazil side of the sixties dominated the headlines. Yet to this day, nobody has ever managed to out-do his 1958 legacy. it’s over to Brazil to see will it hold for another four years….

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Come back next week for two more facts to chew on

Tales From The Perilous Realm- A J.R.R Tolkien book review

If you ask the ordinary fantasy fan to think outside the box when it comes to Tolkien, most would return with answers such as The Silmarillion or The Children of Hurin. When imagining Tales from the Perilous Realm, one must command the fan to imagine themselves standing outside the room which holds our original box. In short, it wouldn’t be the first on anybody’s list, but having read it, I feel it shouldn’t be anybody’s last.

This novel features five unique short stories as written by Tolkien, each based around the world of Faerie, a land we commonly associate with The Brothers Grimm etc. In stark contrast to this land of pixies and toadstools, Tolkien presents a meticulous essay outlining concretely what Fairy stories actually are, and how we should consider them as literary pieces.

The first tale presented is that of Roverandom. Featuring a dog named Rover, the story revolves around the animal becoming caught up in wizard dealings and being whisked away from his normal country lifestyle. What Tolkien succeeds in here unsurprisingly (if one reads The Hobbit) is perfectly building a world for a child’s imagination. Rather than soaking the piece in meticulous detail or filling every corner with aspects of his higher writing, Tolkien maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, and manages to turn a very average plot into a memorable story suitable for all ages. Though not my favourite form the book, the piece deserves praise nonetheless.

Farmer Giles of Ham definitely feels far more like the Tolkien we are used to, with its slightly dark undertone and a plot brimming with swords, kings and dragons. Similar to a world of Frodos and Bilbos, the tale focuses on how the ordinary man gets caught up in a world of valour and higher powers, simply based on how much love even the smallest man can show for their own homeland. Farmer Giles is Bilbo-like showing quick wit and a good humour, while his exchanges with Chrysophylax the dragon are hauntingly familiar if one has read The Hobbit to the finish. Suspense was maintained throughout which kept the tale moving and so the whole thing felt far shorter than Roverandom itself. Perhaps for those who enjoyed The Hobbit this would be a welcome read.

The Smith of Wooton Major dabbled most in what Tolkien considered the faery world to be. Based around a master cook living in a small town, the plot takes us into a parallel world of Faery, all accomplished through the magical ingredients of a special cake! The further the story progressed, the more the tale stood out as thematically impressive and not just a easy read. If Tolkien had delved more into the adventures that did occur in the world of Faery, the story would have benefited undoubtedly. However,given it was intended as a short piece (in which connection to the early paragraphs seems essential to grasp the overall feel), he might have chosen correctly in keeping the length short.

The literature then shifts to poet format, with a series of nearly twenty short stories being fed to the reader on a verse by verse basis. Some of these tales seem by themselves interesting, while others leave much to the imagination but succeed from a poetic point of view. Of all the pieces in this book, this would probably appeal least to the everyday reader. However, for those Tolkien fans who understand deeply that this man valued language far more than he did archers and cavalry, the section is a valuable insight into Tolkien’s ability.

The final piece presented is that of ‘Leaf by Niggle’. Tolkien was always quoted as saying he hated allegory; that is the intentional pursuit by a story etc to give the reader some sort of message (and in many cases the value of the story lies solely in this message). That being said, it is often argued this tale is a highly allegorical one, with its entire plot echoing the recesses of an aging Tolkien’s mind. Tolkien did once quote that for many pieces allegory is itself not presented, and any meaning found in the piece by the reader is purely coincidental, and evidently down to personal interpretation (as given in a note to fans in later LOTR publications). This is reasonable, but one would be hard pushed to read Leaf by Niggle and not come away feeling the whole tale circles around a painter who mirrors Tolkien himself; a man who was awash with worry, unhappiness and regret with not having finished his epic Silmarillion before his death (with this book being if anything the primary part of his legendarium). Just like Niggle, Tolkien continues to tack pieces onto his original work, filling in details here and there as he goes, never really settling on a defined picture/image and always looking to expand when he should consolidate and finish. The ending is too good to spoil, if one really wants value for reading.

Overall, anyone who shows a good interest in Tolkien’s writing will enjoy this quick read, with Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham standing out as a top three in my eyes. Next time I’ll be reviewing The City, a fantasy tale by Stella Gemmell, wife of the late writer David Gemmell.

 

Really? A guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse?

The final book review in the zombie stage of my summer reading list has finally arrived. Max Brooks was again the author in question, with this book simply titled “The Zombie survival guide”. Not to rip off Ronseal or anything (sorry American readers, I’m not sure if ye have that), but this book really does do what it says on the tin. Actually, wait no, I’ve found a far more clichéd phrase-one should judge this book by its cover. Having been wrote before Brooks’ bestseller World War Z, this book gives a far more superficial look at the post-apocalyptic fallout that threatens us all if the dead reanimate.

That being said, superficial is far from what we get in all other areas. The book opens with a detailed look at what makes the walking dead tick (or well, what makes them not tick) in terms of their movement, hearing, eyesight, brain activity etc. As a pharmacy student, I found a lot of this material interesting, as not only is it hard to come by (ya know, ya don’t treat many zombies in community pharmacy these days) but it also ties up very well with concrete aspects of human physiology/anatomy. For readers less enthused by science, this section won’t stand out I’m afraid. Coming to the end of this section, however, we do get a good look at the classifications of an undead outbreak, and what signs to look for in the media.

The next thirty pages are more what the reader goes in expecting, with a full lowdown of all the weapons available and/or useful on commencement of the outbreak. Here we see Brooks got very creative, as his research obviously yielded cold hard facts about the drawbacks/limitations of conventional firearms or military based weaponry, but even outside of that he expands this section to give advice on combat styles, biological warfare and types of body armour. Anybody who has even dabbled in the infamous ‘zombie mode’ from the popular Call of Duty games would find this section more than enthralling.

Personally I found the next two sections to be the best in the book, as they again highlighted how far the writer was willing to delve into his work, but also could be extrapolated for use in other post-apocalyptic situations. The ‘On the defence’ chapter takes a comprehensive look at how homes can be vamped up for use as a defensive position once the dead come knocking. Not only does the author examine the different types of homes available, but he then provides tips for how to operate a defence in public buildings, such as churches, hospitals or schools. Given the outbreak is nigh able to occur at anytime of the day, you may find yourself relying on these pages more than you would have imagined.

The ‘On the run’ chapter then flips you out of the frying pan and into the fire-with its tips focusing on what your plan should be when the house-turned-fortress becomes a no-go. Because this section loosely resembles that of a doomsday prepper programme, it has its ups and downs. The major deal breaker comes in the form of how readily the advice can be applied, given the amount of money needed to create the standard pack alone would be dubious enough. That being said, the chapter does give a rather chilling view of the various terrains that will be encountered along the way, as the author succeeds in making the dangers of each jump right off the pages.

Next it was ‘On the attack’, a section I expected to pan out differently than it did. As it is, the major portion of the chapter centres on how to clear out different zones of infestation, as well as providing possible tactics as to how this process should go ahead. A lot of the terrain material gets repeated from the opposite perspective, and that maybe hampers the flow of the book. That being said, if we are to take this as a thorough guide, then I guess we have to call this repetition necessary, and maybe even important. As a final installment in the guide part of the book, we get advice on how to survive in an undead world, long after civilisation has collapsed and you are beyond hope of rescue. In this case, finding a permanent home is what’s vital, and so Brooks sets out to explore this concept, again using the terrain as a factor, but also looking at how accessible it is, both for yourself and those survivors who would wish to take it.

And so the guide comes to a close. The book however, stumbles on, its back pages acting almost as a prologue to World War Z, as in this section we get to examine accounts of outbreaks over thousands of years, and how these tie together. Here again, we see how Brooks can make a concept so surreal and unfathomable bite really close to the bone. Whether its asking what really happened to those ancient Egyptian bodies, or how did California find itself in the midst of a concerning outbreak, the stories champion all the good features of the classic zombie horror story.

And truthfully, that is really what Max Brooks delivers. For all of the ‘Dawn of the dead’ remake styled movies that now swarm in the film industry, these books are far closer to what we all identify as zombie. And that’s a good a note to close on as any.

World War Z without Brad Pitt

It’s very rare in the modern day to be able to read a book, watch it’s film adaptation, and still find no faults between them. Very rare. But here, after ploughing through an entire series of The Walking Dead books, the faults of which I outlined before both as a novel and as an on-screen version, I found a winner.

The above is actually incorrect, that is, in phrasing of course. I’d actually seen Max Brooks’ novel in the film version six months ago, long before Waterstones got paid a holiday visit from Kyle and his gift card. So when a quick google search informed me the movie and book were pretty much different in all but name, I wasn’t sure what I had got myself into.

The film World War Z stars Brad Pitt, who in the midst of a zombie pandemic finds himself shuffled into the deck of the world’s rescue team, which also features a globally renowned expert in viruses et al as well as the standard motley crew of army companions. Their mission is to go deep behind the enemy lines, to find patient zero and investigate how the infection operates. The journey takes them across countries which overall does try to encompass excerpts from the novel in as dramatic a fashion as possible. The portrayal of Israel is a good example that readers of the book could find a good parallel in. After that though, the similarities dwindle out. Most of the latter part of the movie centres on a World Health Organisation facility, where a plan for a cure begins to unravel. The climax is tense and overall as a narrative the movie successfully breaks into the ranks of respectable zombie films. This review will tend to focus more on the book though, as that’s probably where the real credit should go.

The most observable difference seen in the first few pages of the book on comparison to the film is the existence of the slow-type zombie rather than the fast-moving monster that is rampant in Brad Pitt’s world. Other than that readers would be surprised to see the book actually comprises a series of interviews, each skipping to different parts of the world and effectively examining the fallout of the “war” for people of all manner of class, gender, economic background and professional status. Even I thought this wasn’t going to work, with the skill needed to write a convincing novel made up only of interviews very hard to come by. But to Brooks’ credit, he whisks you right into the story from the beginning. The interviewer only intervenes to a point, giving the book room to flow, and so the pace isn’t hurt at all as mostly those being questioned are left free to describe first-hand what occurred to them during the apocalypse. However, if this was the only feature alone that Brooks employed, I’d leave the book thinking it was a solid shot at trying to convince the reader this had actually happened. What’s scary more than impressive, is that the author goes much, much further.

What’s immediately evident is the writer sticks to a set time pattern, with the novel’s early interviews revolving around the breakout of the virus, progressing eventually through survivor stories and the resulting fight back by the humans remaining.

The first twenty pages are an eerie look at just how terrifying it would be to come upon what seem like gruesome murders or abstract infections, the tone set by those interviewed (which of course the author controls) that all authority were completely incompetent, bewildered or out to cover up the true nature of what was going on. The writer breathes intelligence in every interview as he comes up with clever ways to get the virus on the move, such as cross-continent organ transplants or smugglers helping people out of quarantine zones. This helps quash the disbelief we all would have of “how exactly does this take over the world?”

Some of the best work is evident in the Israel/Palestine story. Of course, pre-war, this has its own political and social upheavals, so the virus only adds to the pool of problems the Middle East faces, with religion and military powers now coming into play as well. This is told from both sides of the Gaza strip, and from those both in power and those on the ground.

Once the plague begins to go global, the interviews shift to where the blame lies. At first we get glimpses of government officials discussing cover-up operations and attempts to avoid panic, but this also expands to give us a look at more interesting and obscure topics such as failed vaccine attempts and the embers of human-zombie contact on American soil.

The Great Panic spans a large chunk of the novel, and importantly deals with how humans became the losing side; a factor left out by most zombie movies where viewers are landed into the situation already after the government/society has collapsed. The tone here darkens significantly, and for the first time we begin to see the psychological implications of an undead world. Survivor stories feature a deranged woman, the fall of the army and the Russian side of the conflict.

After that we see just how big the fallout is, with stories of cannibalism and humans gone insane, either imitating zombies to their own demise or forming wild groups in the urban jungles. The book then takes the survivor cases in two groups-those still living in America and those located on other continents. Some pieces even go so far as to deal with life on the international space station, or life for a Japanese computer kid who is so hooked he fails to notice his parents gone for several days.

WordPress doesn’t have enough blog space to go into detail on all of the fascinating stories the author explores. As a result, I’ll focus finally on the last portion of the book, where I think the author succeeds to give the novel a lasting legacy. Here, during the human fight-back, we are painted a portrait of every aspect of the front line, whether it’s underwater, in cities, in Parisian catacombs or across the American Great Plains. Comprehensive would be insulting as a description, such is the extent to which it falls short in showing just how far the author’s research has prevailed. The ending is bitter sweet in most respects, with a lot of the earlier interviewees revisited to examine the aftershock. Realistically, if you took out the world zombie here and there, it really feels like the novel could have been the aftermath of any natural disaster. It’s less of a novel about zombies thriving, and more of a novel about humans clinging on, whatever for, and even then, remaining uncertain.

I would certainly recommend this on any summer reading list, if only for its merits in writing alone. Outside of that, the research, detail and difference in style the author brings to the table are commendable and go far beyond whatever Pitt and his friends were ever likely to achieve.