136 pages, Sonar4 Publications
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
A year or so ago, one of my short stories was published in an anthology of Western horror titled “Throw Down Your Dead”. As much as I am proud of my own story, I wouldn't really recommend searching out the collection as much of it was pretty awful. However, one of the stories in the collection struck me as being really rather good. It was set in an alternate-history Wild West where zombies are a commonplace nuisance. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the government hires men to hunt down and exterminate any rogue zombies. The most deadly of all these government-sanctioned gunslingers is the tall, dark and mysterious Zombie Killer Bill. E.M. MacCallum's short story was a well-written pulpy romp with enough wry humour and blood-soaked gunplay to keep me thoroughly entertained. When I heard that Sonar4 Publications was bringing out a novel-length adventure, I was intrigued and bought a copy as soon as it arrived in the Kindle store.
As you might well have guessed from the title, “Zombie Killer Bill” is not a particularly sophisticated work of fiction. Indeed, you can probably guess from reading the title alone whether you'd enjoy this story or not. Those who enjoy daft genre-mashing tales will undoubtedly find something in this novel to applaud. Those in search of intricate plotting and deep characterisation would be best off searching elsewhere.
This isn't to say that MacCallum totally neglects plot and character in pursuit of fast-paced gory thrills. With the luxury of a longer narrative, the author is able to give Bill a bit of a back-story as well as a comedy sidekick. The plot isn't especially complicated but the central mystery is unravelled at a decent pace, culminating with a suitably blood-splattered showdown at its climax.
What sets “Zombie Killer Bill” apart from other zombie westerns (a genre which, I am very glad to say, appears to be growing in popularity all the time) is the way in which MacCallum takes the traditional zombie-virus outbreak and gives it a few subtle, but noticeably unique, tweaks. There are different classes of zombie in MacCallum's book. “Legals” are humans who have been infected with the virus but have not yet succumbed to its full effects. They remain physically able and cognisant but they lose the ability to heal from any injuries. Worse yet – further bodily and mental degeneration awaits as the disease takes fuller hold of them. The unfortunate victim of the disease can go one of two ways. They can turn “Illegal” where they become a classic drooling, shambling, flesh-eating undead beastie. Alternatively, they become “Slaves”; mindless but ultimately docile zombies able to follow simple commands and carry out menial tasks. Slaves are rounded up like cattle and set to work on farms or plantations until their bodies rot into nothingness. Zombie Killer Bill's job is to hunt and destroy any illegal zombies and to monitor any outbreaks of illegals on the huge slave farms. Like all great anti-heroes, Bill has a secret he wishes to keep hidden from the world... he is a legal zombie himself, anxiously biding his time and wondering which way he'll go when he finally turns.
“Zombie Killer Bill” is a lot of fun but suffers from a curse that blights so many Kindle books. Although Sonar4 Publications have done a decent job of editing the text of the novel, the page layout is all over the place. Whole paragraphs are shifted halfway across the screen and between chapters we are treated to large numbers of blank pages. It is a simple enough thing to fix when converting the document into the fiddly .mobi format that Kindle uses and there really is no excuse for such sloppy formatting when there are so many helpful (and free) guides available on the internet.
If you are willing to see past this technical oversight and are looking for an undemanding piece of entertainment, you could do a lot worse than “Zombie Killer Bill”. It is just such a shame that Sonar4 Publications are charging quite a lot for the Kindle download. At ￡3.82, they are charging customers substantially more than many independent publishers would dare and this, unfortunately, seems destined to condemn a fun little book to total obscurity.
Hereward L.M. Proops