This is going to be it for right now for my reviews of the Mountain Man series.
Blackmore did put out another book in the series after I read this one. I hope to get to it soon.
Review: Make Me King, Keith C. Blackmore, 2019.
It’s been a few years since the zombie plague changed the world, but the zombies themselves have become little more than forces of nature. Oh, you can find pockets of them like the zombie heads kept alive for torture unsuspecting travelers that we saw in Well Fed. Or, for that matter, the swarm of them that emerged from the government bunker under Whitecap when Shovel’s gang freed them in the same novel. Mostly, though, they’ve ground their legs to stumps and finally even they died.
And, if the world is going to be rebuilt, people have to be gathered. Maybe not in the brutal way that Shovel did before his brother, the Mountain Man, Gus, took him out with a giant dump truck.
This novel takes place a few months after Well Fed, and the surviving characters of the previous books have settled on Big Tancook Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Collie Jones, the JF2 soldier from that novel, proposes a mission to gather people up or, at least, open trade with them.
First, though, she wants to take a party back to Whitecap and retrieve the weapons that Shovel’s gang didn’t get to. Best not to let them fall into the wrong hands.
So, she takes off with a small party that includes Gus who she has grown close to her after the death of her husband Wallace. They’re even more battered now after their encounter with Shovel.
Gus and Collie aren’t the only ones looking for people.
Another group of survivors, settled around an old camping resort, is on a quest to reclaim one of their own, Carson, an auto mechanic and electrician too cantankerous to know what’s good for him.
And it’s here that Blackmore wrings some very dark elaborations on the previous novels in the series.
That ancient institution of slavery has returned as those other searchers find out when captured by Jolly Jake’s gang. Its chief enforcer is O’Leary, a mad dog, shotgun-toting plastic surgeon. Or, at least, so he says. Jake’s willing to humor this former used bookstore clerk. His homicidal ferocity is useful.
The scenes with Jake’s gang are horrifyingly humorous, and we also meet “meat puppet” Top Gun, an ex-gym teacher who threw in with the gang. But Top Gun’s a military trained sniper too, and he and Collie will find themselves exchanging shots more than once.
Both Carson and Top Gun provide depressingly realistic portrayals of how good people can be broken to collaborate.
And whom do they collaborate with?
All throughout the series, we’ve been hearing about horrifyingly brutal the gangs are out in western Canada. We heard it from the bikers who assaulted Gus’s mountain lair in Mountain Man. The Norsemen said it in Hellifax. Shovel said he was the lesser of two evils compared to them.
And they were right.
The gang is the Leather. They want their own meat puppets. And, unlike Shovel, they aren’t offering gratitude or comfort in exchange for obedience. Obey the Leather or your flesh will feel its hammers, tongs, and knives.
But they also want a girl, Monica, that Collie’s group rescues.
The Leather may dress and act like a Mad Max gang. They favor bows and arrows and catapults over gunplay, but they’ve done something no one else has. They’ve created zombie soldiers.
And, in the climax inside Whitecap, we’ll learn some more about how zombies came to be – and why there’s more than one kind.
There’s even more gunplay here than Well Fed, but indispensable Gus finds himself wielding a baseball bat again to save the day.
There’s plenty to like in this novel – if you accept supersoldier Collie. Her story becomes more poignant in this novel. As usual, Blackmore is very good at detailed action scenes, and with Top Gun and Collie squaring off, some of it takes on a conventional military flavor.
I’m continually impressed by how well Blackmore uses an old idea, the zombie apocalypse, and keeps bringing something new to it. There’s horror a plenty here as well as disgust and fear, but there’s also humor and tenderness.
There’s also a cliffhanger ending, but I’m confident Blackmore’s next installment in this series will come up with a compelling finale.