'48 by James Herbert
Publisher; BCA/Great Britain/1996
Plot; At the end of World War II, as he admits defeat, Hitler sends one last gift to London, a bomb which disperses a poisonous gas which instantly kills most people in an excruciating and torturous way called the Blood Death. The people who are left can be broken into two categories; those who will instead suffer a slow death and those with a rare blood type who are immune to the gas.
This story follows Hoke, an American who had been a fighter pilot during the war, and now spends his days hiding from the Black Shirts who are an army of slow dying gas victims who are seeking out the immune to do total blood transfusions in a vein (and totally unsuccessful) attempt to save themselves.
My Thoughts; I have read romance and chick novels galore, but no book has made the tears stream down my cheeks as much as '48. I could not put the book down!
When my heart wasn't racing as the hero was chased through the London underground I was crying at the depictions of the lives lost, not only because of the disturbing way their remains had been left behind, but because of the eerily beautiful way Hoke travels through their streets and homes and can almost feel their presence.
What I really appreciated about this book was the characters and the way they balanced one another, the two leading ladies for example; Cissie was brought up in the lower middle class as the daughter of a publican, making her a surprisingly strong and bold woman behind her blonde, voluptuous exterior. This is in stark contrast to Muriel, the tall, thin and almost fragile brunette brought up in high society as the daughter of a aristocrat. Another such contrast can be made between two of the leading male Characters; Hoke and Wilhelm. Hoke is the quick to the trigger American, who may work better on his own but is a natural leader when put into dire situations while Wilhelm is the quiet and calculating German. He is happy to stand at the back of the pack but in times of trouble he is likely to come up with the more (theoretically) successful resolution.
One thing that I did find lacking was a more in depth look into the "villain" of the story, Hubble. In terms of depicting Hubble in the dimmest of lights, Herbert has been successful, as the mere mention of the man made my skin crawl, but I would have liked to know more about the man. Who he was before the Black Death, did he have a family, how did he come to lead the Black Shirts... I felt further explanation of Hubble and his character would have been beneficial to understanding the man's plight.
As a whole this story was heart stopping and as I read I came to love the characters, even those I initially felt I wouldn't. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone faint hearted or weak stomached as there are some scenes where I myself almost had to take a walk outside, but if you can get past the gruesome settings this is a really enjoyable, heart stopping adventure to take.