Review – Fiend by Peter Stenson

Posted: July 19, 2014 in Horror
Tags: , , ,

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I was sent this a while ago but never got around to reading it…until last night and I couldn’t put it down. The writing style and first person narrative lends itself to a quick read whilst the plot was, literally, addictive. Though I’ve been on a bit of a zombie horror binge of late, I’ve been very lucky with my choices. Most are recommendations from great and trusted sources; Fiend was a stab in the dark that struck gold.

When Chase Daniels sees the little girl in umbrella-print socks disemboweling the Rottweiler, he’s not too concerned. As a longtime meth addict, he’s no stranger to such horrifying drug-fueled hallucinations. But as he and his fellow junkies soon discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived. And with Chase’s life already destroyed beyond all hope of redemption, Armageddon might actually be an opportunity–a last chance to hit restart, win back the love of his life, and become the person he once dreamed of being.

The opening gambit is a pure drug fuelled hypnotic hallucination that doesn’t stop. Chase, the protagonist and the most self-serving junkie in literature, and his friend Typewriter John have been on a meth smoking bender for a week. Thinking the dog chomping little girl is at first imaginary and, then, a substance induced hallucination of a child who they just murdered by mistake, the pair go on the run. However, it dawns on them that the abandoned streets and Chase’s dead neighbour may be connected to something greater.

Drug addled and at their mental breaking point, Chase and Typewriter not only have to dodge a bunch of reanimated corpses intent on eating them, they have the even greater worry of their crushing addiction. After some hair-raising adventures, Chase manages to save his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend and the gang head out to a dealer’s cabin in the woods to set up the good life, away from the zombies but mainly, and more importantly, with the man who can cook meth. Things go typically pear shaped as the junkies lose perspective and control and the happy gang are soon losing members in their strange struggle to survive the apocalypse.

Chase works out that it’s the meth that has saved them from the disease which has claimed the rest of the population. But, whilst the addiction that has ruined them becomes suddenly condoned, it changes nothing. The book is a gripping and heart-wrenching meditation on the vile and desperate need of drug addiction; the pointless and self loathing constant, the ceaseless and unsatisfied itch, and the weird zen like moment of self-destruction of the hit that never lasts or does all that it promises to do. Fiend is a powerful read.

The writing style sucks you in to the conniving and selfish world of Chase and his friends. The desperation for meth and the dirty, consuming highs and lows pour from the page, creating an entangling and hypnotic narrative. The horror of chasing the next hit is almost worse than Stenson’s super creepy, giggling version of the zombie.

It’s like Breaking Bad mashed together with The Walking Dead, told from the perspective of the most scabby, greasy dishonest junkie available. But, Stenson’s novel is so much more. It picks away at what’s underneath the addiction to the heart of these very damaged characters. It is there that the book does so much. It highlights the lose of innocence, the desperation and loneliness and the deep desire to return to a place of happiness; to rewind the clock and never make that first, damning mistake. Fiend is a zombie horror on its surface, a strung out meth novel underneath but, at its heart, a polemic on the human condition and it is fantastic.

Review copy
Published by William Heinemann

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