Book Review: The Trinity by Chris Philbrook

This is the seventh and penultimate instalment in Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series, which follows our narrator as he attempts to survive after the dead rise. Unlike a lot of zombie stories, Philbrook has added a supernatural element to proceedings, with Adrian Ring, the ex-marine who keeps a journal being one of the key players in deciding whether mankind will be saved or not. His actions, along with the other two members of the trinity will be judged and mankind’s fate depends on how they do.

It’s been a while since I read book six in the series, so at the start I couldn’t quite remember where this picks up the story. Thankfully, Adrian’s diaries quickly brought me back up to speed. We see Adrian have to deal with a rival group of hostile survivors, and also with more weirdness.

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The book fills in the blanks and adds more clues as to where all this is headed, but for the large part Adrian is still merely trying to survive and keep his people safe. His diary entries are still filled with profanity and dumb jokes, but there’s something endearing about this regular guy forced into a position of responsibility and command due to strange events.

Philbrook ties the different story strands together quite well, and ensures the plot moves along nicely. There are new threats and twists along the way and the introduction of new problems and characters. There’s also a growing sense that as the pieces in the game gather that the endgame is due to start soon. What this final judgement will be is still a mystery at this point, but the final part of this series is high on my “to read” list now.

The action is quick and the diary entry continues to be a handy tool for building tension, leaving the reader wondering what has gone down when there are lengthy gaps between entries and leaving threads hanging. Adrian’s conversational tone ensures that it remains entertaining and engaging, and the humour undercuts some of the more grim moments.

I was hooked throughout and loved that seven books in this story still moves in new directions I didn’t see coming, and the supernatural side of the story adds more mystery to the novel. This whole series has been hugely enjoyable and I hope the ending keeps the streak going.

Verdict: Philbrook develops the world he’s created and there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. His vulgar narrator continues to be a likeable character, and easy to sympathise with. It builds the suspense and tension well, and the sense of the approaching ending ensured that I ploughed through this quickly, eager to see where this is all going. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow

The second of George A. Romero’s zombie movies, Dawn of the Dead, is where my obsession with the undead began. Not a direct sequel to the earlier Night of the Living Dead it works as a companion piece, another story from the same world. Just as dawn follows night, the film takes place a little further along down the zombie apocalypse. I saw it first and as much as I love Night, I probably prefer Dawn.  This makes it even more annoying that I haven’t seen the movie in years. It’s never on telly, I can’t find it on Netflix and tracking down a DVD is proving tricky too.

My old copy, taped off BBC2, is long gone now. And yet a lot of the movie is still fresh in my head, whole scenes are clear to me and I remember the tone well, a mix of dark comedy, grim tension and subtle satire of our commercialised world. Driven by instinct the living dead are drawn to places that were important to them, in this case a mall.

The novelisation of the movie caught my eye on the shelf in a book shop, and I had to grab it.

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And I am so glad I did.  As Simon Pegg states in his introduction a book provides a different perspective to a film, and here we get to see more of the inner lives of our four survivors as they hole up at the Monroeville Mall. Fran, who works for a Philadelphia television studio is watching the world go to hell and decides to flee in the station’s traffic chopper with her boyfriend Stephen. Joining them is Stephen’s friend a SWAT tropper named Roger and his comrade in arms, Peter, who he meets during a disastrous raid.

The mall, despite having plenty of zombies around, makes an attractive proposition and despite originally having planned to load up before moving on to Canada, the group linger there, enjoying all the cool stuff they find there. But is it as safe as they think it is?

I really dug this book because like the movie it captures a sense of constantly simmering tension, even when the guys are living it up, there’s an artificial joviality to things, and the dead are never far away. The characters are more fleshed out here, particularly Peter, who is developed slightly more than the tough badass he is in the movie and the tensions between him and Stephen are better explained. Similarly, Fran and Stephen’s relationship makes a bit more sense.

The action is written in a fast paced, engaging way and Romero, with co-writer Sparrow succeeds in making it incredibly tense in places. The story is simple but involving, and it moves along at a good speed, while still letting the story breathe in places. I really loved this book, but it’s just made me want to rewatch the original movie again.

Verdict: A gripping and entertaining story, much like the movie it is based off. The characters are slightly more detailed here, and it captures the vibe of the survivors fraying under the pressure of the civilised world ending. A must for zombie fans. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Fall of the Governor Part One by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

This is a spin off from the comic book series The Walking Dead, and the fourth in a series written which sheds a little light on some supporting characters. Mainly the villainous Governor of Woodbury, who is one of the series’ main antagonists.

In the comics we meet him from the perspective of the heroes, outsiders who arrive at Woodbury and quickly discover the leader to be a sadistic, psychotic individual. The rest of Woodbury’s residents are either thuggish goons or survivors caught up in the ensuing war, their feelings on the Governor never fully explored until he goes too far.

In this book one of the main characters is Lilly, a Woodbury resident who has her own issues with the Governor and how he runs his little kingdom. There are mentions of earlier clashes but she does begin to wonder if maybe they are safer with the Governor, perhaps they need a tough, vicious leader in a tough, vicious world.

As with the comic books and the show, the zombies (known here as walkers or biters) are an ever present threat, lurking beyond defences or hiding in the trees and ruins. But the real threat to the human survivors are each other and their fight for resources.

As I’ve read the comics many of the events here don’t come as a surprise, with all the major beats repeates. But what makes it interesting to see these from a different view. To see the actions of Rick and his allies not as heroic but as the actions of an outside, possibly malevolent, group.

Lilly’s story is interesting as she struggles to deal with the horrors she’s witnessed and starts a tentative romance with another survivor. She’s an everywoman character in many ways, who has learnt to survive and for safety has to join a group she doesn’t fully trust. Yet despite her misgivings she has no real choice, as leaving the relative safety of Woodbury would see her left outside alone, scraping around for food and constantly at risk of zombie attack.

Circumstances then make her situation harder as Woodbury teeters on going to war with Rick’s group.

This is quite a gripping, tense read with some solid character works but I had forgotten just how dark and unpleasant the Governor was as a character and there are some violent sequences which are tough going.

I’m also not sure why this was split in two parts as this is a fairly short book and might have worked better as one longer story.

Verdict: As a spin off that occurs alongside events from the comics there are very few surprises. However, seeing the same events play out from a different angle is quite interesting and I found the character of Lilly relatable and likeable. I’m keen to read more, hopefully as the darkest, most unpleasant parts of the story is done now. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: In the Arms of Family by Chris Philbrook

Part six of Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series picks up after the previous instalment’s revelation that one of Adrian’s allies had been under the sway of evil forces. Here we see our hero and his allies dealing with this and also fresh challenges.

There are new, shady types about in town and some of their allies are brought down by a man on the inside. Now those survivors are living with Adran but he knows one is not to be trusted. But which one.

By witholding the identity of this traitor Philbrook ratchets up the tension and leaves the reader unsure and uneasy at the prospect of their next move. Similarly, aside from vague allusions, the new group of enemy survivors are kept hidden. It leaves Adrian worried about what to do next and leaves the reader on the hook.

Elsewhere Philbrook does very well in slowly, steadily building the good vs evil story in the background and bringing the players together. It’s great writing and provides a deeper meaning for the zombies.

As ever Adrian’s diary is at times crude and vulgar, but it works for the character and makes it feel more real. And despite writing from this perspective for much of the book Philbrook is fleshing out some of the supporting cast nicely.

This book doesn’t have as many interludes as before which is a shame as each one so far has served to expand the world Philbrook is building and introduce fresh characters and events. They also provide more tension for the reader than the diary entry format does.

And as with every book so far it left me craving more.

Verdict: Another solid entry in the series which adds more threats and deepens the storyline. Well written and utterly gripping. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Wrath by Chris Philbrook

After a few nonfiction books I figured it was about time to travel to the land of make believe. And so I returned to Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series.

The fifth instalment follows the same structure, with the story told through the journal entries of Adrian, a foul mouthed, ex-soldier who leads a small group of survivors against the undead. These are broken up by sections which follow supporting characters and sketch in more details of the post apocalyptic world.

The series, thanks to Adrian’s funny, profane narration has been a winner from the jump, but Philbrook has slowly added more meat to the story. Supernatural elements have been added and the setting up of a good vs evil game afoot is handled well, and explains certain characters’ actions.

There’s plenty of twists and action, and one revealation about a long standing character is a gut punch, but written well.

A series which grows in terms of depth and scope, this continues to be a very entertaining read.

Verdict: The story continues to develop and Philbrook keeps the reader hooked. Left me keen for part 6. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Cats and Zombies

2AM. Saturday morning.

I have only a few hours until I have to get up for work, but I’m wide awake. And sleep isn’t going to come easily.

Why aren’t I asleep?

Because I’ve just had a nightmare.

Yes, like a little kid, a bad dream has jolted me awake and now I’m lying in the dark, every noise transformed into something ominous by fear.

The dream started off well enough, with me as a cowboy. There was a shoot out between James Stewart and Audie Murphy, which left both dead. And then undead Audie got to his feet. Yes, Walking Dead style, it didn’t take a bite, but I blame George A. Romero as I’d been thinking about his movies a lot in the last week and eager to watch Dawn of the Dead again. Perhaps this was my subconscious’ tribute to the director?

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I managed to cuff Jimmy before he revived, but Audie bit another person. Having dropped the most decorated zombie in Hollywood, I saw the other zombie pursuing my cat, Midnight. Out of bullets (isn’t that always the way?), I hastily ran and shoved the zombie into a side room and grabbed Midnight.

Unfortunately the living dead opened the door and seized me from behind. It went to bite my neck.

At this point I awoke, but still gripped by the fading terror of the nightmare, I actually awoke in the process of throwing my elbow in defence.

Luckily the biter had come from the right and I was elbowing thin air. On the left and I would have clocked MWF in the face and probably sporting a shiner. And I suspect that her coworkers would have heard “my boyfriend elbowed me in the face while asleep because of a nightmare” and assumed it was a flimsy excuse, a slightly more inventive version of “I walked into a door”.

Luckily, Pumpkin, who in the dream was sensible enough to avoid the walkers, jumped into the bed and huddled in by my arm. Stroking him calmed me down and eventually I fell back asleep. And this time, without any nightmares.

Thank the gods for cats.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Failed Coward by Chris Philbrook 

Having really enjoyed the third part of the Adrian’s Undead Diary series I added this to my Kindle and couldn’t resist cracking on with the fourth instalment.

With new allies and fresh sources of supplies, life should be good for Adrian and his little group of survivors, zombies aside. However, the undead are acting strangely and there are a few new faces in town who he can’t trust yet.

Philbrook does a great job of building and developing his undead apocalypse more and more with every book. Having introduced a supernatural background in part three it lends events here a new dimension of creepiness and raises questions for the reader and our narrator. What has raised the dead and why?

We get glimpses of life elsewhere, a group of besieged soldiers in the UK, a flashback to two dimwitted stoners as the world went to hell. There’s also a crazed loner, who revels in the apocalypse, selfishly and callously surviving, his ranting becoming increasingly unhinged and adding a fresh tension when his house is mentioned as a potential target for Adrian and his scavenging friends.

With winter coming to an end, Adrian faces fresh challenges and with human survivors returning to the town must wrestle with whether his scavenging and looting is defensible. 

A cracking read with some unsettling touches and some dark, crude humour, this series continues to be a treat.

Verdict: Philbrook expands his universe and also finds new ways to keep the story fresh, creating an uneasy feeling and a gripping story. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Midnight by Chris Philbrook

Back to the zombies with the third instalment of Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series. As with the others this is told largely in the diaries of Adrian, an ex soldier holed up at a private school as the dead rise.

The second book ended with Adrian discovering that he wasn’t alone and welcoming people into his home. There’s also a threat from another group of survivors. Over the course of this book this feud comes to a head and other survivors are encountered.

It’s a quality read with the story developing nicely and there being a few nice twists and turns along the way. Adrian is also a great character with fragility, humour and fear creeping into his foul mouthed diaries. The action is quite gripping and while the diary format robs some of the tension, it still works as Philbrook is smart to use gaps between entries and short, angry or upset entries to give the impression things have gone wrong and put the reader on edge.

Philbrook also has rounded Adrian out and ensures the reader is engaged and invested in what happens to him.

There are also inserted chapters that take place elsewhere, which gives us different perspectives and fills in the gaps that Adrian can’t. One of these explains the cause of the zombie apocalypse and this is done well, different from other zombies stories. It also gives Philbrook routes to follow and feels fresh. This increases the creepy factor and creates an unsettling vibe and leaves more questions unansweed.

Looking forward to going back to Adrian’s world soon.

Verdict: The series goes from strength to strength. This part expands the world the story takes place in and ups the stakes. New characters and a few nice twists keep it fresh and hooked me in throughout. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: Alone No More by Chris Philbrook

My new year resolution may have been to broaden my reading, but here we are back with the zombies. The second part in the Adrian’s Undead Diary series this picks up where the first left off. Our narrator, Adrian, is an ex-soldier who after the dead start walking and biting has holes up at the remote, elite boarding school where he worked.

Alone he tries to gather supplies, fortify his home and build a new life, all while dodging the undead who hunger for flesh. His only comforts being his cat, Otis, and the journal he writes.
The book is told in these foul-mouthed entries as he details his exploits and vents on his fears, theories and regrets. The journal format works as the missing days usually mean something has happened and the insight into Adrian’s mind set is well done. While a laddish, vulgar narrator at times Adrian is likeable enough and relatable, showing flashes of dark, self deprecating humour.

Philbrook changes it up with short chapters from the perspective of other character’s caught up in the apocalypse. Often people who have crossed over with Adrian’s story. In the first book these often ended badly but here there are a few that hint that life endures elsewhere.

As the story implies Adrian meets living people once again and these sections are quite moving as behind the bluster you can tell it means a lot to the frazzled hero to have company.

It builds to a strong ending and number 3 is on my wish list now. I’ll just have to fit some different books in between.

Verdict: Improves on the original and Philbrook impresses with his ability to capture his characters. The changing world works well and the arrival of more characters is a nice touch. A solid, entertaining zombie book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Books of 2016

As ever split into fiction and nonfiction. Fiction first.

5. Deception Point by Dan Brown

Brown isn’t the best writer and some of the characterisation and dialogue is wooden but you can’t deny he crafts an easy pageturner and I ploughed through this.

4. Lady Killer by Ed McBain

When the detectives get a note taunting them about a murder which will be committed in twelve hours it kicks off a ticking clock thriller as they try to work out who the killer is, as well as their target. Proves writing under pressure works.


3. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A warm easy read about life, death, fate and the connections we form in our lives. A nice read and wonderfully unpretentious. Review.

2. Ex-Purgatory and Ex-Isle by Peter Clines

Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series gets better and better with two clever installments. The first sees a bizarre parallel universe and the second sees the heroes discover a new group of survivors while tensions mount back at home. Quality stuff and the full reviews are here and here.


1.  Killer’s Wedge by Ed McBain

I am loving McBain’s Precinct 87 series and this is probably the best yet. It starts with a woman entering the detectives’ office and announcing she has explosives in her bag. The rest of the book is a tense face-off as the cops try to work out what to do and Steve Carella, her target makes his way for the precinct. Full review here.

Honourable mentions, all the other Precinct 87 books I read and Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook. 

And now nonfiction.
5. Spectacles by Sue Perkins

Perkins’ memoir is warm, funny and incredibly moving in places. I liked her going in but I liked her even more afterwards. A real gem. Review.


4. A Life Inside by Erwin James

An honest, clever look into the life of a prisoner James has a knack for observation and telling quick, short stories which are still insightful. Full review.

3. Are You Dave Gorman?/Too Much Information by Dave Gorman (and Danny Wallace)

Massive fan of Gorman and his funny, fussy and friendly writing. Whether looking for his namesakes or examining the weird customs and conventions of modern life, he is an affable, funny narrator and I enjoyed both books.


2. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson delves into the world of online jobs and shaming in a clever, funny and well researched book. He writes with compassion and he goes off in different directions. Review.

1. Playing the Enemy by John Carlin

A book that moved me immensely, delving into the political and personal stories behind Nelson Mandela’s ambitions for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The great man comes across wonderfully and the optimism and healing powers of sport had me quite misty eyed. My full review here.


Honourable mentions The Football Neutral by Jim Smallman and D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz.
Any recommendations for the coming year? Let me know in the comments. BETEO.