Vacation by Matthew Costello
Publisher: Thomas Dunne (Macmillan/Sept. 2011)
Source: From publisher for review
In the near future after a global crisis causes crops to fail and species to disappear . . . something even more deadly happens. Groups of humans around the world suddenly become predators, feeding off their own kind. These “Can Heads” grow to such a threat that fences, gated compounds, and SWAT-style police protection become absolutely necessary in order to live.
After one Can Head attack leaves NYPD cop Jack Murphy wounded, Jack takes his wife and kids on a much-needed vacation. Far up north, to a camp where families can still swim and take boats out on a lake, and pretend that the world isn’t going to hell.
But the Can Heads are never far away, and nothing is quite what it seems in Paterville. . .
I love zombies, but I’ll admit, lately, I’ve been kind of on a kick, and I’m almost to the point where I’m zombie’d out. This was good news for Vacation, though. I’m a fan of Matthew Costello from way back, so when Vacation was brought to my attention, I was quite excited to dive into it. Vacation has “zombies” of a sort, called Can Heads (cannibals, see?), and they’re driven by an unknown virus, possibly brought on by the terrible world conditions. Drought, famine, and economic collapse are a part of Jack Murphy’s life, and as one of the few remaining NYPD cops, he works hard to keep the streets safe for the people scraping by in this dangerous new world. He and his family live in relative, if tenuous, comfort, in a walled off section of the city and rarely venture outside. ‘Cause, baby, it’s nasty outside the walls, and increasingly clever Can Heads are finding their way inside the walls with alarming frequency. After an incident that leaves Jack’s partner dead, and Jack himself clinging to life, his boss urges him to take a vacation, suggesting the Paterville Family Camp, high in the Adirondacks, as as a getaway option. So Jack packs up his wife, Christie, and their son and daughter, and they hit the road.
The opening scenes in Vacation were exciting in their visceral, violent action, but really, it’s when the Murphy family hits the highway for the drive to Paterville that really brings the creep. Papers had to be filed and fees paid in order to pave the way through the official checkpoints and Jack is fighting increasing stress, while his family is eager to get out of the confines of the walls they’ve lived behind day in and day out for years. Jack just can’t put the cop away and relax, but trust me, this turns out to be a good thing. A nasty incident at a deserted rest stop doesn’t help to allay Jack’s fears, but he puts aside these feelings, hoping that Paterville will offer his family a little bit of freedom and happiness, if only for a short while. They manage to arrive at Paterville without further incident, but among the lake swims, fireworks, and admittedly good food served in the dining hall, there’s always a sense of “wrongness”, and the author does a great job at building dread. What I really appreciated about these characters, is when the proverbial “sh*t” finally hits the fan, and the nasty (really, really nasty) truth about Paterville comes to light, Jack’s wife, Christie, doesn’t question her spouse. She trusts him implicitly and shows an amazing resilience and toughness in the midst of a terrible situation. Too many times, in novels and movies, spouses (men and women both) show disbelief and hesitation when confronted with a situation that requires swift action. Christie is no slouch in the courage department, and she’ll do anything to protect her kids, and she never questions Jack’s devotion to his family. And make no mistake, he’s devoted. This is a horror story, to be sure, but at the forefront is Jack’s love for his family, and his determination to do anything possible to keep them safe. Vacation was unputdownable, and I read it in one evening. Never too gruesome, leaving just enough to the imagination, it will raise the little hairs on the back of your neck and keep you glued to the pages until the shocking end. Fans of zombies, creeping horror, and just plain good writing will eat this one up (pun totally intended.)