Jon Grahame (pseudonym of journalist Denis Kilcommons), winner of the John Creasey Award from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain for his first book, The Dark Apostle, offers Reaper, the first of his new trilogy of the same name. Reaper is a post-apocalyptic revenge tale-turned vigilante plot, full of action and violence…and not much else.
Jim Reaper, an ex-policeman bent on avenging his daughter’s rape and subsequent suicide, finds himself as one of the few survivors of a world pandemic and logically decides that he has been preserved so as to meet-out justice on all “bad guys”. Think 28 Days Later meets Mad Max, meets Raymond Chandler meets Judge Dredd… but which then fails spectacularly on all counts. Set in the North of England after the world’s population has been decimated by “SuperSARS”, the novel passes up every opportunity to use the genre to say something interesting or meaningful about the state of modern society or the human condition. Instead, there is a formulaic plot with under-developed, two dimensional characters who read like a game of Happy Families (e.g. Jason Houseman, the estate agent). The novel reads like an X-Box game walkthrough, dedicating pages to describing (often repetitively) the central character’s growing arsenal. By about page 20, Grahame has pretty much established the narrative cycle of the book; Reaper finds some guns, Reaper saves some girls from being gang raped, Reaper recruits said girls (and anyone else he finds along the way whom the self-righteous Reaper does not class as a rogue element) to his band of merry men and women so as to establish a community in an abandoned holiday village in Yorkshire. If the reader manages to get past the not only unbelievable but down-right insulting insinuation that all a woman needs to get over repeated gang-rape is the possibility of going “shopping”, they can then look forward to the prospect of this motif being repeated ad-nauseam throughout the book. Also repeated tiresomely is the word “putrefaction”, for which Grahame does not appear to have been able to find a single alternative. Perhaps a thesaurus would have helped.
The book has no real plot, as Grahame chooses to waste his time with endless descriptions of fire fights and weaponry rather than any kind of narrative or character development. The only character with a modicum of depth (and I stress modicum) is Reaper himself, who comes across as a self-righteous psychotic who finds that the “necessary” violence of a world without order gives him a purpose he never had in ordered society. However, Grahame attempts to portray him as an out and out hero and suggests that anyone who questions him is a coward or a generic bad guy. Every character introduces themselves immediately by name, profession and who they knew who died in the epidemic, which seems to be Grahame’s idea of character development (That and some token detail such as the size of a woman’s breasts.) Again, try not to find this too insulting when said woman dies and Grahame feels he has to remind us, yet again, just how big they were. The plot rushes along, vast swathes of time covered in a few summary lines of activity whilst Reaper’s vigilante war exploits are given pages of description. The relationships between the characters all develop unseen; people meet at the beginning of a chapter and are getting married by the end. Therefore, it is difficult to muster any emotion when various characters are killed off, as none of them really have any significance. If you looked at the cover of this book and thought no, that’s not for me, you are probably absolutely right, and best you avoid it like the proverbial plague.