by David Moody
336 pages, Thomas Dunne Books
Review by S.P. Miskowski
Few horror novels have proven to be more attuned to their particular moment in human social development than David Moody's Hater and his sequel Dog Blood. One glance at today's news online or on TV is enough to provoke outrage in the average person. So how does the same news affect people who are already harboring barely concealed rage toward their families, their employers or lack of employment, and society itself? These individuals wake each morning in a state of irritation or anxiety. How many steps removed is this mental state from outright physical aggression? Every news cycle brings another variation on the answer to that question.
In Hater (2009), the first novel in a series which continues with this month's publication of Dog Blood (2011), author Moody dared to portray an apocalypse triggered not by a virus, climate change, or weapons of mass destruction but by human nature. The change, whatever it consisted of, flipped a switch in certain people, and they no longer felt constrained by rules, laws, or convention. Occasional rampages turned to frequent bloodshed, and then to constant attacks on other people. The condition was manifested in about one-third of the population, and no one could say why.
Hater arced perfectly from the continuous low-level violence we tolerate in the real world every day, to brutality on a massive, fictional scale. Most disturbing, the willingness of the novel's characters to commit heinous acts depended not on their sense of morality or their circumstances. The capacity for extreme violence simply emerged. There were Haters, who struck out with ferocious aggression. And there were those who ran away, were preyed upon, or gathered in groups to attempt a systematic, dehumanized retaliation against Haters.
Dog Blood picks up where Hater ended, in an all-out war between the Haters and the Unchanged. Danny McCoyne continues to search for his daughter Ellis amid the ruins of the town where his family lived until three months ago. His journey reveals odd factions and differences of attitude on both sides of the battle.
After three months of rationing and without the means to receive or even locate adequate supplies, the Unchanged are running low on food, water and medicine. The displaced refugees among them have given up hope of being rescued by an outside force, and are simply hanging on. But their will to survive is matched by the Haters' will to destroy.
Like any parent on a mission to save his child (never mind that she is a killer by now, if she is alive at all), Danny is relentless. This is a realistic element used by the novelist to keep Danny focused, but he doesn't sentimentalize it. If anything Moody sends up the idea of paternal love and protection. Knowing that Danny will move enormous obstacles to be reunited with his flesh and blood never distracts us from the fact that Danny expresses no great desire to locate the members of his brood who have not become Haters.
Along the way Danny takes note of a world caving in to madness. He reports it all with a keen, clear eye. His observations, free of any moral obligation, are fresh and exhilarating. He demonstrates the joy of pure action, the human will in survival mode. It's both breathtaking and painful to see.
Two threads balance one another in Dog Blood: Mark is one of the Unchanged and his pregnant girlfriend is panicking over their lack of adequate shelter and supplies. His progress is juxtaposed with the story of Danny's search for Ellis. Mark's chapters provide a third person omniscient view of the current situation, followed by Mark's third person limited perspective, all in past tense. Danny's chapters are in present tense, entirely in first person, creating the same close intensity that Moody built so well in Hater. We may not like Danny, but we come to understand him.
The action sequences are so beautifully paced that the reader might not notice the precise elegance of the language. Every scene propels us forward with a sense of inevitability, but without cliches. Every character is a sharply etched individual with a life history and a purpose. Nothing is wasted or taken for granted.
This apocalyptic tale abstains from pronouncements about the world while closely examining human behavior. The novel refuses to identify a source or triggering event that the characters cannot identify, and plausibly demonstrates that Haters recognize one another without an overt visual cue. Dog Blood is an audacious work of imagination and style whose exploration of rage is both timely and frightening.