Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mel Keegan's new one rocks: GROUND ZERO

I'm lucky enough to be a proofie for DreamCraft, so I read this one a few months ago, long before the cover was painted ... before the web pages were uploaded ... before it tickled the Top 50 Techno Thrillers in the Kindle store -- and I can tell you, the ranking is highly deserved.

GROUND ZERO is one of Mel Keegan's best, and he's written some doozies. It's sorta-kind SF, yet at the same time it's close enough to the present day world for it to have a great contemporary feel. (In fact, I was at Amazon the other day and I noticed that a lot of users over there are tagging it "contemporary thriller" as well as SF. This shows you that the book is rooted deeply in the present, at the same time as having the SF "polish" that plunks it in the Techno Thriller bracket.

And "thriller" it surely is! Here's another one you don't want to start reading later in the evening, because you won't be getting a hell of a lot of sleep till you're done...! It's a page turner almost from the beginning. MK takes a chapter out to introduce us to the characters, the backdrop, the geography inside of which the story's going to be taking place. Then, Chapter Two starts ... and you're on a rollercoaster to the end.

It's also a damned hard book to review without handing out spoilers. So I'll describe it in broad terms and whet your appetite. It's set in Adelaide in 2048 (this adds extra zest for us, because Adee is hometown for MK and self, and the crew from DreamCraft), and it's set in the winter of that year, and in the hills east and south of the city. Those who know the landscape will find it so involving. Those who don't will find the descriptions evocative and visual. The big chances are in the tech that runs the world in this era. People haven't changed...

You're about to meet Brendan Scott and Lee Ronson. Two beauties, an established couple, hitched and all, who grew up in the decades *after* anti-gay prejudice died the death it richly deserves. They're gorgeous, and the book is a tad bit hotter than MK's usual. There's quite a bit of sex, and it's deliciously written.

The book also has a sharp sense of humor. There's a lot of chuckles and a couple of belly laughs. But the "thrust" of the story is the mystery ...

It’s winter when the city suffers a series of bizarre murders, robberies at high-tech labs – and a virus which sprang from nowhere. Every two days, a fresh body is discovered … entirely drained of blood. Every two days, a weapons research or energy technologies facility is robbed of a seemingly bizarre list of oddments. Meanwhile, the virus known only by a codename – 2048-3a – is so new, no part of the community is immune and the city is crippled. Murders, robberies and virus are intimately connected in a mystery that will astonish. Lee Ronson and Brendan Scott find themselves taking point in an investigation filled with unexpected hazard – and equally unforeseen reward.

Lee and Brendan work for a university department. They're the data analysis team in the Paranormal Studies department at the new (fictional) Franklin University. They're the ones who get to go into the field, "wrangle" data on weird, offbeat cases that often turn out to be the work of serial killers, loonies, cults. On rare occasions, the data turns up a genuine haunting or sighting, or an "out of place artifact."

So DCS Maggie Jarmin hands the latest too-weird case to her old mate, Doctor Robert Strachan, who's the head of Paranormal Studies. And Doctor Strachan assigns Lee and Brendan to git out there and do the sleuthing, find the data to prove (or dis) what the hell is going on in SA this winter...

It's a mystery which unfolds over the book's 105,000 word running length, and it gets progressively more thrilling as it goes, until the last segment will have your heart in your mouth. And I honestly, seriously, can't say anything else without handing you plot spoilers -- and in this case, guys, plot spoilers will be story ruiners. You have to READ this one, experience it "as it happens" to get the thrill ... and it'd be lousy of me to spoil that for you.

The ebooks are out right now (everything from Kindle to Blackberry, via everything in between), and the paperback comes out in October. Right now, it's $9.99 across the board -- for a good, solid read, and a story that you're going to remember.

Here's the book's own page:

On that page, you can read the first couple of chapters, and buy it rafts of formats.

AG's rating: 5 out of 5, and a gold star for giving me an absolute thrill.