Edward J. McFadden III
After reviewing titles like Crustacean, Infestation and The Valley, I’ve found that I’ve started to acquire a taste for so-called ‘creature feature’ stories – ones that feature some kind of over-sized and unnaturally powerful creature suddenly appearing from out of nowhere and wreaking havoc on some poor section of humanity, undeterred by the impotent and increasingly frantic effort of local law enforcement and, eventually, the military as well. Harking back to the various blockbusters of the 1950s like THEM! and more recent efforts like Godzilla and Cloverfield, I always enjoy stories in this genre and their plot beats – small, unexplained encounters with a mysterious creature end up rapidly escalating until the creature (or creatures) are discovered, and bloody mayhem breaks out as a gore-soaked wave of terror is unleashed, bystanders, police and soldiers being torn apart as they try in vain to stop them. They’re always intensely cinematic in nature and hugely enjoyable, and furthermore they can be an appreciable break from more intense or lengthy stories. As such, when Mr McFadden approached me to see if I would like a review copy of The Breach, his latest novel, published by Severed Press, I was certainly interested. The cover image, of the crew of a patrol boat desperately fighting off what looked like a giant scorpion, grabbed my interest, and the cover blurb did the rest – a devastating hurricane has ravaged Long Island and disturbed “…a monstrosity of the past mixed with the present…”
The novel opens in the very-near future of 2019, in the immediate aftermath of an intensely powerful Hurricane carving its way through the state of Long Island. The protagonist, marine police officer Nate Tanner, is quietly observing what’s left of his hometown after the force of nature has left; it’s a powerful cold open to the narrative, as Tanner observes a devastated, water-logged area that barely seems to be capable of maintaining any human life, let alone being able to rebuild once the floodwaters have gone down. One of the things I noticed as I read The Breach is that McFadden has a deft eye for atmosphere and descriptive prose, really managing to eke out the rot and ruin that’s left after such an overwhelming event, and the mixture of emotions that come as a result. You immediately find yourself emphasising with Tanner, his colleagues and the civilians that they meet in and around the area the book takes place in, and as the destruction is slowly but surely revealed over the opening chapters, you readily get a sense of just how bad this has been for the area – as one character mentions in an off-hand but enlightening comment, this will be something that their grandchildren will still be dealing with.
As if the destruction and ruin wasn’t bad enough, it soon becomes all too obvious that Hurricane Tristin also left another booby prize, one that’s only just making itself apparent at the start of the story. It begins with some mysterious waves and sightings of a strange aquatic animal, but only a few chapters pass before the mega-creature that’s depicted on the front cover of the novel reveals itself and begins to slaughter unsuspecting locals – first on the remaining beaches, and then moving into the waterlogged ruins of Long Beach itself. It’s a tremendously powerful creature, and the author has been quite imaginative in developing the ‘sea scorpion’ as it comes to be dubbed by those hunting it – there’s a nice bit of background which is revealed in drips and drabs over the course of the story that posits it to be some kind of evolutionary mutant, a result of breeding between various species and revealed by the Hurricane. I appreciated that the creature was kept entirely earth-bound and didn’t have any occult or extra-terrestrial origins – it was nice to something that was an evolutionary dead-end, and not something developed by the Elder Gods or an alien race, as is so often the case in books like this. There’s even a degree of sympathy successfully invoked by the author by the end of the book, as it becomes obvious that this creature isn’t deliberately trying to kill and maim, but is instead defaulting to that main instinct that belongs to human and sea creature alike – to survive.
The majority of the book is taken up with the hunt for the sea scorpion, and this leads to a series of action scenes interspersed with some brief but well-done character development for some of the main cast, as well as a few very tense and well-written hunting scenes, where the situation is always fluid and it’s never quite clear whether Tanner and his colleagues are hunting the creature or vice-versa. The action scenes themselves are imaginative, punchy and extremely well-written, with tight plotting, and despite the gunfire, explosions and often brutal and graphic depictions of violence – limbs being snipped off, torsos ripped apart and bodies defiled – it’s always clear what’s going on and who is doing what. It’s inevitable in these kinds of stories that the military becomes involved in the hunt for the creature, and the latter action scenes involving helicopters, gunboats and heavily-armed Federal agents are also well-executed; they also introduce my favourite character in the title, the mysterious FBI agent Silva, who seems to have almost unlimited powers under his belt, but also a heavy duty to bear. I enjoyed Silva’s scenes, though they were far too brief, and I’d like to see a novel focused on him in the future, if that’s on the cards.
In conclusion, The Breach is a fantastic ‘creature-feature’ title, filled with exciting, fast-paced and well-written action scenes, some great characters and an imaginative and well thought-out antagonist in the shape of the Sea Scorpion. I enjoyed it greatly, and look forward to future works from Mr McFadden.