Once I saw the book cover for Vacation by Matthew Costello and read the publisher’s blurb, I knew I had to request an advance reader’s copy (ARC). Luckily I scored a hard copy for one lucky reader to win in a giveaway – thank you St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books! They even included a brochure for the Paterville Family Camp. I cracked up when I saw the brochure. Their marketing team obviously has a great sense of humor. Although this book definitely qualifies as scifi/horror, it crosses genre boundaries into thriller as well, and it is one funhouse roller coaster ride for those who are not faint hearted. Don’t plan to get any sleep once you start this one because you will have to read through the night.
If you’re into gaming, you may think Matthew Costello’s name sounds familiar. He’s scripted dozens of top selling games including Doom 3, Bad Boys 2, The Seventh Guest, Just Cause, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. He won 5 awards at E3, including the Game Critics award. He’s also written film and TV scripts, and several novels. His early novel, Beneath Still Waters, was made into a motion picture. His novel, Homecoming, was a finalist for the Bram Stoker award. Why do I mention all of this? Well, first of all, the man has chops. Secondly, his skill shows up on every page of Vacation. This is one very well written novel that will grab you from Page 1.
The world is teetering on complete disaster. Global warming, genetically modified food, a global drought and resulting worldwide starvation – one disaster after another. Something had to be done, so researchers rapidly developed a food to try to stave off starvation without doing the kind of testing that’s normally done. There was no time. But then a lot of the population began to change. No one is sure if it’s tied to the food or a combination of things. Not everyone changed genetically but too many did and it seems to be getting worse all the time. The changed are called Can Heads and they’re animalistic cannibals – pure predators. And thanks to them, the world is poised on the brink of another disaster.
Jack Murphy is an NYPD officer. He and his partner, David Rodriguez, work a beat in Brooklyn. Being a police officer these days is not what it once was by any means. No one in their right mind wants to be a police officer. In a lot of NYPD precincts, the red zones, officers don’t even leave the building no matter how bad the call. They don’t dare.
Brooklyn is becoming worse all the time. It’s practice dying to go out on a call even with the latest reinforced protective armor. All of the calls are the same – Can Heads breaking through barriers. The only question is whether it’s a few Can Heads or a whole pack of them. It’s all a roll of the dice. Jack and David go out on a night 911 call to an apartment building to find a small breach in a fence.
“The guard coughed, a crackle over the speaker. ‘A tenant – fourth floor. Said he saw a new hole outside. Another breakthrough. H-he thought they might have gotten into the building. Sounded scared.’”
Everything looks and sounds quiet inside but it’s far from peaceful. When they get up the stairs to the caller’s apartment, the guy is dead already and mostly eaten. Can Heads jump them inside. They rip David to shreds before Jack can kill them all. When he pauses to give David a mercy shot, the remaining ones jump him and do enough damage to put him in the hospital before his backup can rescue him.
“’You heard my radio?’ [Jack asked.]
‘Yeah. No response when we pinged you back.’ Brandt took a breath. ‘The guys didn’t know what they’d find. Pretty surprised. You alive and a whole lot of dead Can Heads.’”
Although Jack insists on coming back to work as soon as he can move well enough to work a desk job, his boss refuses to allow it. He and the department therapist arrange for the department to pay for Jack and his family to take a vacation to a well-protected family camp in the Adirondacks named Paterville Family Camp.
Jack is highly resistant mainly because he can’t believe any place could be safe from Can Heads but still the brochure does look enticing. His wife soon convinces him it would be good for all of them. The kids and she need to get out of the armed camp that Staten Island has become and he needs more time to process what happened, and to let his leg and other injuries heal more fully.
“She leaned close. ‘Look at your kids. Tell me, have they ever seen a lake, a real lake for swimming? Walked on a trail, seen a mountain, gone to a beach? None of it. This could be their chance, Jack. A week away from this…world to have a few days in summer like kids and families used to. They deserve that. You do. I do.’”
So, after having the car reinforced, and caches of weapons stored in hidden compartments built into it, the family packs up and head out into the great and dangerous unknown that the countryside has become. Will Paterville Family Camp deliver on its promise of safety, security, scenic beauty, fun, fireworks, lake swimming and real home-grown food? Is it possible there’s a place where they can escape their worries about Can Heads and be normal again, even if just for a little while?
Vacation is one hell of a roller coaster ride, with lots of whiplash turns. I was sucked in immediately and could not put it down. This thing moves at the speed of light. I loved this family, even when the kids were being totally obnoxious, and I rooted for them every step of the way. This is a seriously scary book. There were times when I was going Eeeeew at the top of my lungs and other times when I was getting teary eyed with hope. See what I mean about whiplash? I was completely wrung out when I finished reading. According to the author’s web site, Vacation is already being developed as a feature film. I can certainly see why.
Vacation was released on September 27, 2011, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below:
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One lucky reader will win an advance uncorrected proof (ARC) of Vacation by Matthew Costello and a brochure for Paterville Family Camp.
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