COVID-21 by A.J. McInally

Suzie Eisfelder

I love these mini conventions. When I went to Bendicon last year I found the table for Screaming Banshee Press and there was A.J. McInally. Book shops are fantastic places to be, I’ve had some super recommendations from book shops over the last few years, but big publishers don’t go out on a limb for books such as COVID-21. So small publishers will put their money on the line for beginning authors, for books that may not necessarily make them enough money. You’d think I’d be saying that COVID-21 is one of those books that should have been published by a big publishing company, I’m not saying that. This book has some issues, but it also has some good things going for it. A while ago I decided I wouldn’t write about a book if I couldn’t find something good to write about in it. This is not one of those books.

I love the premise of this book. It totally tugs at the heart strings and puts the pressure on just by the title. I mean, we’ve all been through COVID 19 and we all know how hard it has been. The first four paragraphs of chapter one tells you what’s happening in the world. Essentially, the world has moved on from COVID 19 and now we’re onto COVID 21. Only this virus turns people into killing machines, cold-hearted killing machines.

What I don’t like about this book is the length. It’s far too short. The first four paragraphs of chapter one that I mentioned before could be at least two or three pages and give us more detail. They would then be a good prologue rather than embedded in a chapter. This might have included some of the last phone call Ray and his wife, Emma, have together. This would amp up the tension dramatically later on as he replays various parts of the phone call in his head.

Normally, in novels such as these, the characters spend time putting together a new society. We see some attempts to make this happen in this book, but why are there so few women? We see one woman, and hear about another. All of the other characters are male. This could have been a good ‘teaching’ moment, why do fewer males get COVID 21? On the other hand, with so few women we do get the bleakness that goes hand-in-hand with the end of the world. Bear in mind this is not just the end of society but the end of the human race. No women equals no children and in due course no humans. This idea was totally omitted, we only see it if we notice the lack of females.

Just like in all books, someone just happens to have the skills the main character needs. In this case, Ray wants to get home from Glasgow to find his wife in the US. He just happens to come across a pilot who wants to go back home. I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just part of the book. But it does lead to the end of the book and there are no fluffy bunnies there. I think I’m just upset by the fact that the most-needed person just happens to come into view in every book of this type. There is one author who wrote himself in as the hero’s saviour. At least McInally had the taste not to do this.

The entire book is very bleak. I’m trying to be careful what I say as I don’t want to give you spoilers, but it’s a challenge. If I say I enjoyed the ending it might make me look a bit odd, but I don’t really like happy-ever-afters; they don’t happen in real life. And this book is the opposite. While I took pleasure in the ending, I also ranted as it finished too soon. At 81 pages, this book is way too short for the scope it promises. There could have been much more PTSD, there should be lots, everyone would be suffering from it.

But having said all of that there’s lots of promise. Such as when Ray enters a police station, he’s suddenly worked out what he needs to keep himself safe. Some of this passage is show, not tell, and it works nicely. It’s not ‘oh, I need guns for safety and they’re at the police station’, instead it’s ‘Eyeing the police station, he decided to enter, now in no doubt as to what he needed if he was going to make it out of Glasgow alive.’ Early on in this book I really liked this sentence, it gave me courage that the rest of the book would also be good.

To summarise. This book holds the promise of a good author if McInally can bring himself to put pen to paper again. There are a few things that could be teased out to make a fuller book, and I’d certainly welcome more words, but not at the expense of the story. It’s a good premise and a good story. How do I say I enjoyed the book when it’s dystopian horror? It’s one of those problems in life that I just can’t make up my mind about. If McInally publishes another book I hope I get to read it, a second book should be better than the first. The only reason I’m not giving you an affiliate link so you can look at the book is that it’s not listed on Booktopia.

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