David Jack Bell
Trade paperback, 222 pgs, $16.95, 2008
Reviewed by Steve Vernon
Did you ever stop to consider that maybe this novel has already begun?
The Condemned opens in a future much like our present. America is at war. We’re not told just who we’re at war with nor does it matter. This chilling bit of need-to-know information is indicative of the overall tone of this work. The common man doesn’t need to know anything, now does he. Nothing except what he’s told.
In this future, America is at war and the economy is in the crapper. This city’s infrastructure has crumbled beneath its own weight and a terrorist attack on the water supply. One wonders if maybe every city is in a similar situation. Again, we are not told. No one is. This society is built entirely upon disinformation.
In a word – dystopia.
Jett Dormer works for the government as a professional auto reclaimer. Everyday he drives his wrecking truck into the heart of the quarantined city, risking attack from the zombie-like City People. He hauls out abandoned cars which are crushed and converted into scrap metal to feed the every hungry American war machine.
Jett doesn’t want to do this, but he has no real choice. His family will starve if he doesn’t find work. Although it isn’t said out loud, or at least I didn’t catch it, all manner of social programs have fallen with the cities. This illustrates the real horror of this novel. The motivation of the characters is set within a logic that runs chillingly close to today’s stark undeniable economic realities. The pace of the novel runs at a comfortable gallop. The characterization is fairly strong. The book has the overall flavour of a blend of one-part Repo Man and one part Mad Max.
The story revolves around Jett’s return to his profession following a temporary burn-out resulting from the loss of his partner. As I said, economic necessity forces Jett back to the job and a new partner – a crippled war veteran whom Jett refers to as “The Kid”. Only “The Kid” seems to know a little more than Jett realizes. A sort of student-mentor-Fight-Club relationship develops as the crippled war veteran seems to heal the burned out wrecker. The climax leads to the partial uncovering of the true nature of the zombie-like City People.
This is David Jack Bell’s first novel and as such has its share of speed bumps and needless detours. I was bothered by the author’s decision to refer to Jett’s new partner as “The Kid”. This cheapened their relationship, dwindling it into something that veered dangerously close to cliché. Still, The Condemned is a fast and entertaining read and Bell works some angles that are far from obvious. Those readers in search of a solid post-apocalyptic novel will find themselves in good hands.