Nick Cole’s Red King reviewed

I’m not quite sure how I stumbled onto Nick Cole’s book Red King, from the Apocalypse Weird Saga. I think I fell down into one of those Internet rabbit holes (it happens periodically, maybe more often than that) and when I snapped on my penlight, lo and behold, there was the Red King. Post-apocalypse? Check. Zombies? Check. As an added benefit the cover screamed pulp and there’s times when I just have to feed that appetite (said appetite having been first discovered while reading Robert E. Howard in my youth) especially since my appetite was recently whetted by a binge consumption of Z Nation (which I heartily recommend).

I have to admit, at first I’m not that impressed. I watch as Holliday binge drinks for a few days and thus completely misses the introduction of the zombie apocalypse and am reminded fondly of Sean of the Dead’s intro, but he doesn’t seem to me all that interesting of a character. Nor do the next characters to happen along, Ash and Frank.

But then along comes Jackson Braddock and the weird part of the title starts to kick in. Braddock is kicking ass and killing zombies in a downtown LA that is almost completely overrun by Zed. But he’s not just trying to get to safety or save a busload of children or anything so mundane as that. No, Braddock is trying to intercept and terminate a target, get hold of the briefcase the target’s carrying, and bring it to the lone military outpost still standing in LA, a downtown bank skyscraper.

Really? It’s the zombie apocalypse and the most important thing isn’t trying to kill the zombies or escape but to get a briefcase? I have to know what’s in that briefcase. Okay, Jack’s at the bank building, he’s talking to the military, they’re going to expedite his ass out of there – and then, holy shit! People gunning each other down. Betrayal. Dirty nuke exploding. And there’s Jack with some head bad guy and there’s more going on here than just the ZA and, oh yeah, the head bad guy isn’t really a guy at all, but something else.

Now the story’s moving. Back to Holliday, Ash and Frank and, you know what, the characters are starting to come alive and get interesting. Holliday makes about the worst decision a person could make in the middle of the ZA but not too surprising for those of us with first-hand knowledge of how addicts think. But it’s all a set up to bring in…

Ritter.

“Holiday saw a white guy who thought he was street. A guy who listened to rap, maybe even thought he was a major league drug dealer, when at best he smoked weed too much and dealt on the side to pay for his habit, often at the expense of his friends. Holiday saw a guy who was probably raised by a single mother in a bad neighborhood. In short, he saw the President of the White Guys chapter for the Snoop Dogg fan club.”

Okay. So Cole has brought in some kind of stereotypical cocky street punk. The story backs up then and I get to find out how Ritter spent his past few days, holed up in some nameless office building with some other unlucky stiffs and they’re dealing with the fact that one of their own, Dave, who was going to break out and bring them help, is now Zombie chow and they’re stuck.

Except that Ritter knew all along the guy wasn’t going to make it. He went along with the plan to get Dave out of the way. Heck, even if Dave had cleared the zombies he was doomed. Why? Because Ritter gave him the wrong damned keys to the getaway car. Shit. That’s cold. And now I’m definitely racing through the pages.

Interesting. Ritter claims he knew Dave was going to bail on them and that’s why he gave him the wrong keys. Maybe there’s more to Ritter than meets the eye. He’s watching the other people he’s trapped with, gauging, assessing. There’s a whole lot more thinking going on in his head than he lets on but when serious insights into others is interspersed with straight-up idiot white boy gangster thoughts it’s hard to tell if Ritter is brilliant or a delusional, empty poser.

After poor Dave’s moment in the spotlight as the zombie’s lunch du jour, the survivors come up with a new plan to escape, except that, according to Ritter, he’s the one with the plan and he’s just manipulating the others into thinking that it’s their plan. He’s looking more delusional. And in the midst of it all he’s checking his cell phone for a text. Some package he’s supposed to deliver that Dave had and refused to give him, which is why he’s still here. And now I really have to know what is so freaking important that anyone would still give a shit about it after the world ended.

I’ve said enough and I hope I haven’t spoiled anything for anyone. I guess what I really wanted to get across is that Ritter looks to be one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in a while, right up there with Caine (please, please read Heroes Die) and Sandman Slim (Richard Kadrey’s character is awesome). I want to watch him do his thing more. I want to figure out who he is.

I’m also intrigued by the blurbs at the end of the book where eight other authors introduce their books set in the Apocalypse Weird saga and we’re told that “old secrets and dark enemies merge across multiple realities that are getting dangerously close to one another.” I want to see how all this fits together. I hope it lives up to its promise. Does anyone remember the old Thieves’ World books? That’s the closest I remember to something like this and I hope it’s as good.

Check out The Red King on Amazon.

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