THE DAMNED, William Ollie’s first published novel, is another take on the end of the world. The book opens with Scott Freeman driving home from work. He’s upset about being fired from his job (for an ultimately trivial reason) and he’s upset with the driver in front of him, who’s talking animatedly on a cell phone. Scott’s anger bubbles over and gets the better of him, leading to a road rage incident in which he gets shot in the head. Seven weeks later, Scott wakes up from a coma and finds that the world has come to an end -- the majority of the people are gone; animals are nowhere to be found; gray ash is filtering down from the darkened sky. What follows is a two-day journey through hell, in which rape, torture, murder, and cannibalism have become the norm, and survival is all but impossible.

This is a difficult book to review in that I see it as having two distinct sections. Allow me to explain myself…..

In my opinion, the first half of the book reads like a “debut novel.” The main thing that struck me was that William was trying too hard to make the story gritty. Take, for instance, the swearing. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I swear a little too much at times (“Seriously honey….I have no idea how the 7-year-old learned to say ‘shit!’”). But during the first half of THE DAMNED, its use is waaaay over-the-top. Here’s an excerpt from page 17:

“…..I ain’t run across a straight-shootin’ son of a bitch since it happened. Just a buncha evil doin’ bastards. Like that preachin’ cocksucker said: the damned are walkin’ the earth and it’s dog eat fuckin’ dog, and you’d better watch your nuts or one of those big behemoth motherfuckers’ll be gnawin’ on ‘em…..”

Most of the early conversations are like this, and they quickly become wearisome to read through.

Another problem I had was that it was almost impossible to care about many of the characters. William would do an effective job introducing a new character over a couple of pages, then promptly kill that character before anything else happened. After awhile, the characters’ backstories become meaningless because you know they’ll be dead or maimed in another paragraph or two. Add that to the characters’ incessant petulance, and it’s hard to get behind anyone the reader comes across.

And then something changed.

In my eyes, William’s writing matured as the pages went by, and around the halfway point he started telling an effective story. Some of the aforementioned problems popped up from time-to-time, but they weren’t as overpowering as before. Instead, we learn more about Scott and what is driving him to survive in the newly destroyed world. We learn more about Dub and his gang of thugs, who have taken over the city and have plans for expanding outward. We read about the internal conflicts that many of the remaining characters have – questions about faith, concerns over the way the world has changed, feelings of loss for the dead, self-consciousness over the brutality being committed, etc. As readers, we begin to care about the characters as they adapt to the world around them and go through their tribulations, making us want to turn the pages to find out what happens to each one of them.

As I stated, the bulk of the novel covers a two-day period, and it takes place in one city. As such, there’s plenty of additional areas William can explore in his new world if he chooses to continue the story (and it appears he’ll be able to based on the open-ended finale).

In the end, I can only give this novel a 5 out of 10. While I think William has talent and his style definitely matured as the story progressed, there were too many stumbles at the beginning for me to give it an above average score.

THE DAMNED was published in November 2008 as a $49 limited edition hardcover. It was available at Horror Mall, but appears to be backordered at this point.

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