||Double Dragon Publishing
||Jan 25, 2010
From award winning author Brian L Porter comes the thriller sensation of the year. 'Pestilence' leads where others will follow in creating a scare-fest that will terrify, entertain and astound the reader.
Barnes & Noble
Pestilence, - A Novel by Brian L Porter
Pestilence....breathe if you dare!
The year is 1958, the place, an idyllic village in the heart of the English countryside. Olney St. Mary has stood in its peaceful rural location for over 900 years. Suddenly however, the peace of the community is shattered when two teenage boys are stricken with a mystery illness. The newly arrived village doctor suspects `flu to be the cause of their malady. Her initial diagnosis is terribly and tragically wrong!
Before long, Doctor Hilary Newton and the residents of Olney are plunged into a nightmare of Biblical proportions as the death toll rises and no cure can be found for the disease that ravages the local population, despite the doctors employing the latest antibiotics available to them. Somehow, this plague is different! Help arrives in the form of a medical team from the outside, but the bodies continue to pile up. Someone, somewhere, perhaps within the community itself, knows the reason behind the pestilence that has struck at the heart of the village, but will the medics learn the truth before it's too late, or will they too join the growing list of names that appear on the roll of death roll in Olney St. Mary?
When a mysterious explosion wreaks havoc in the children's playground, followed by a second lethal blast in Olney's makeshift field hospital the sinister and unbelievable truth behind the pestilence begins to slowly reveal itself.
Award-winning author Brian L Porter takes terror to a new dimension as an age old horror returns to nineteen fifties rural England. This time however, the pestilence itself appears to have evolved!
The English countryside is never typified more than by the beauty of many of the tiny villages and hamlets that lie dotted in the midst of its agricultural heartlands. Those villages, many dating back to the time of William the Conqueror or earlier times form that extraordinarily special backbone to the very ‘Englishness’ of the countryside. In many cases unaffected by progress and unchanging over the years these islands of peace within an otherwise frantically industrialised and heavy-industry driven economy often hark back to an era when life was lived at a slower pace, when neighbours could leave their doors open without fear of being robbed, and when everyone knew everyone else and the community cared for itself and each other as though the village itself were a living, breathing entity.
Every so often however, an event may take place that upsets and dislocates the unchanging equilibrium of even such idyllic locations. It may be fire, flood or pestilence, but it goes without saying that when such upheaval strikes life in those beautiful and tranquil havens may never ever be quite the same again.
What follows is the story of one such village, and of one such upheaval, and so we must take a short journey back in time to the year nineteen fifty eight, back to when it all began, to when death wore a new cloak, walked a new course, and the terror of a bygone age reached out to chill the hearts of those who crossed its path.
The quaint and peaceful village of Olney St. Mary had stood in its rural location for almost nine hundred years. Set in the tranquil Kent countryside, surrounded by vast swathes of hop fields that grew the crop for the beer that would quench a thousand thirsts, it had watched over the comings and goings of the centuries virtually untouched by time. The people of Olney had always lavished care on their village, isolated as it was by its pastoral surroundings. The nearest settlement to the village was the tiny hamlet of Bywater some twenty five miles to the east, the nearest town, Ashford being nearly forty miles away. The coast lay to the south, a distance of just over forty five miles as the crow flies.
It had been a Royalist stronghold during the long-ago days of the English Civil War when Cromwell had for a brief period of history established his Puritan Commonwealth in England’s realm. As far as was known, however, no battles or even light skirmishes took place within fifty miles of the village.
Centuries later, a memorial was erected to commemorate and remember the lives of the fifteen men from the village who sacrificed their lives for their country during the great World conflagration of 1914-1918.
Later, during the Second World War Olney had been witness to an aerial dogfight during the Battle of Britain and a Messerschmitt Bf110 had been shot down by a defending Spitfire in the skies above the village, eventually crashing to the ground in flames just beyond the northern boundary of Olney in a field owned by Mr. Simon Parkes. The aircraft had been flying as an escort to a formation of German Heinkel bombers en route for London, and a great cheer went up from the local residents as they saw the aircraft hit the ground. The elation of those first on the scene was quickly tempered when they witnessed the fruitless struggles of the two unfortunate aircrew as they tried desperately to escape from the burning pyre that their aircraft had become. The remains of the German aircrew were later buried with due respect and reverence in the graveyard at St. Mary’s church. German or not, they had been human beings, and the people of Olney were decent, God-fearing folk, who bore their fallen enemies no further malice. After all, the dead couldn’t hurt them could they? After that the village remained relatively untouched by the savagery of war, though rationing took its toll on the local businesses, and after the war another twenty names were added to the local war memorial. The sons of Olney St. Mary had once again stood tall and proud and given their all for King and Country.
As the nineteen fifties saw the world entering a new and relatively peaceful age the village regained its previous air of tranquillity, and little happened that could be described as newsworthy in the village of Olney. The remains of the crashed Luftwaffe Messerschmitt had been removed from Farmer Parkes’ field by the RAF at the end of hostilities to be displayed in a museum and the field had been sold to the Parish council, where it had been turned into a playground for the local children. The fifties heralded the new consumer age, with washing machines, televisions and motor cars becoming the norm, rather than being the preserve of the wealthy or the middle classes. Work was plentiful, and though small, Olney St. Mary prospered. The majority of its working population were involved in one of the two main local industries; farming, or barrel making. A team of coopers still produced hand-made barrels for the brewery industry according to the methods laid down centuries earlier. Indeed, there would be little to distinguish between a twentieth century Olney-made barrel and one produced in the days of Cromwell’s Parliament.
The tiny school, the church and the local pub, The Beekeepers Arms were the focal points of village life, and Sam Bradley’s garage was the only place from which the locals could obtain cars, tractors and the spare parts for both. His was also the only petrol pump to be found for miles around, the profits from the sale of said petrol making Bradley one of the wealthier men in Olney.
Bradley had been excused war service due to his having been born with a club foot, though this didn’t prevent him from growing up to be a tall and handsome young man who had no problem in his relationships with the opposite sex. He’d married during the war, and his wife Emily had given birth to their first child, a son, in 1944. David Bradley took after his father; he was a good looking boy, taller than most of his contemporaries, and the child always seemed happy, the smile seemingly painted upon his cheery face. Two years later, a daughter followed whom the couple named Christine, and for the Bradleys, life was good. Sam’s business prospered and the children were both healthy and strong, and popular amongst the other children of the village.
Young David spent much of his time in the company of his best friend Evan Parkes, one year his senior. Evan was the grandson of Simon Parkes, and lived with his grandparents on the farm. Evan’s father Michael had been one of the unfortunate sons of Olney who had perished fighting for his country during the conflagration of World War Two, being cut down by enemy mortar fire as he played his part in the battle to free France from the yoke of Hitler’s tyranny. Michael’s was one of the twenty names that were freshly engraved on the war memorial when peace returned to Europe and the world. Evan’s mother Deirdre, never the strongest of women had become pregnant with Evan during one of her husband’s last leave periods before his death and Michael had died in action without ever having seen his baby son. Deirdre had found life unbearable after the reported death of her husband, and she died in 1946 from what the locals described to each other as a broken heart. In fact, Deirdre had contracted viral influenza, and her body had been unable to cope with the ravages of the disease, thus leaving her young son in the care of his grandparents Simon and Ellen Parkes.
David and Evan played together almost every day, and were seen together so often that a casual visitor might have mistaken them for brothers. Football, cricket, games of make-believe, of cowboys and Indians, the imagination of the two youngsters took them on a roller-coaster ride through childhood, and they became two of the most popular children at the tiny village school, where their teacher Eileen Devenish was always delighted with their schoolwork and good behaviour. As they moved into their teens, their education became the responsibility of Mr. Eric Padley who taught Olney’s children of secondary school age. Both boys continued to be the best of friends, and to excel at their studies.
As the boys and their peers grew towards adulthood life in Olney thus proceeded in its usual idyllic fashion for those fortunate enough to live within its boundaries.
In 1958 the usual calm of Olney was disturbed by the death of the village’s long serving general practitioner, Doctor Harold Meddings at the age of seventy. Meddings had been the doctor in the village for as long as most people could remember and the whole village turned out to attend his funeral in the tiny church, the service being conducted by Timothy Grafton, vicar of St. Mary’s. Three weeks after the funeral the new doctor arrived to take over the deceased Meddings’ duties. Sent at the request of the parish council by the local health authority based in Ashford, Doctor Hilary Newton’s arrival set tongues whispering in Olney from her first day in the village. Doctor Newton was young, female, and pretty, a combination guaranteed to ruffle a few feathers in the previously staid village. With her long hair styled in the fashion of forties movie pin-up Veronica Lake the new doctor instantly became the object of any number of schoolboy crushes, not to mention raising the blood pressure of most of the adult population of Olney. Many of the older residents of the village passed less than complimentary comments on the appointment of a woman as their new doctor and for many weeks Hilary Newton’s daily surgery was marked by a distinct lack of the elderly patients who had made up the bulk of old Doctor Meddings’ regular clients. The young doctor was painfully aware that she would have a real job on her hands in gaining the respect and the trust of her new patients. Time of course would play a part, as eventually even the elderly residents of Olney would need the care of a qualified medical practitioner. They couldn’t treat themselves with aspirin and old-wives remedies for ever.
Unfortunately for the new incumbent in the post of general practitioner to the people of Olney St. Mary that time was rapidly running out. Her services, and her medical knowledge were about to be tested to the full and she would have to work more than extremely hard if she were not to be found wanting!
Brian Porter's Pestilence is a classic. A story one glides into seamlessly. Many authors need to find their métier. Brian Porter has no such difficulties. The ease with which he engrosses the reader is immediate and compelling. A quick narration of the setting: the bucolic countryside of eastern England.
The scene is set, destiny weighs her hand upon a village fated to be drawn into a tragedy which, as the story progresses harbors a threat that could easily spiral out of control.
For `Every so often however, an event may take place that upsets and dislocates the unchanging equilibrium of even such idyllic locations.' The first hint that calamitous events, broiling beneath the surface stalks the village with silent death. Destiny determines a set of unrelated events, which when combined with a chilling determination unleashes grief as well as despair. For a while all will seems hopeless. With terrifying prescience Brian Porter informs us that `What follows is the story of one such village, and of one such upheaval, and so we must take a short journey back in time to the year nineteen fifty eight, back to when it all began, to when death wore a new cloak, walked a new course, and the terror of a bygone age reached out to chill the hearts of those who crossed its path.'
Yet unlike other authors of the outré, we are reminded the fated village of Olney St Mary grows hops, a very worthy agricultural pursuit. Her people certainly know their priorities. Then a quick jaunt through the history of the place, for England is a land steeped in a miscellany of varied past times. Yet it is recent history, the desperate Battle of Britain that will reach out its weighted hand once more, a decade later, resurrecting one of the darkest secrets of that bloody era.
Memory serves the inhabitants well who remember, a Messerschmitt being shot down, crash landing, the pilot killed and buried with due honors. Ah, British fair play, magnanimity in victory, however small. Unfortunately this victory was to have dire consequences. `The dead couldn't hurt them could they?' Porter hints.
Watch out. Something malignant is awakening beneath the ancient soil as a horror gestates beneath the archaic charm of rustic life in the bright light of day. The war and rationing are over. Better times promise a better and brighter future for all. The people of Olney St Mary are content.
Until a child is sick. Then another, who dies.
The horror has begun, the invisible claws of a silent malignancy determined to cause havoc amongst the living, stirring, as yet undefined by a perplexed and newly arrived Dr. Hillary Newton. A woman! Mr Porter reminds us just how avant guarde a single woman doctor is in those staid villages, how it appeared to its naturally conservative inhabitants.
Mr Porter keeps the story moving along nicely. Nor is this mystery thriller solved by some two dimensional card board cut out or some stereotyped persona struggling in a one dimensional plot.
The enigma deepens. A second patient is moved to the general hospital in the next town. Our newly arrived village doctor will need the advice of her co-professionals. The symptoms appear as if it were the flu, which of course it is not. The reader will have guessed by now that some awful virus or bacteria is on the loose. Another standard plot line? Luckily not. This is not some cheap, indifferent cut and paste drama engineered for daytime television.
The pace becomes crisp. Yet there are snippets inserted which flesh out the characters. A line here, a sentence there, not whole paragraphs, illustrate the varied personalities of the protagonists. Of which there are plenty who slowly are inserted into the story as the disease threatens to become a pandemic. A few people still remember the deadly influenza that had carried off so many after the Great War.
Bakelite telephones, those that have them, quaint English cars, memories of departed loved ones stir as the tragedy continues to unfold. Mr Porter broadens the plot into the labyrinth that is Whitehall, all the way up to the head boffin who throws a cordon sanitaire using military resources around the village.
They are now isolated without getting closer as to the cause of this rampant disease which is claiming more and more lives. Observant villagers note an absence of rodents. When some dead rats are found an autopsy reveals their lungs literally eaten away.
The plot thickens. Degree by incremental degree the story assumes a more insidious aspects hinting at, as yet undefined possibilities.
`To the outside world, it was as if Olney St. Mary had been spirited away into a nether world, a place where sounds were muffled by the smog, and where the streets lay empty and deserted, a ghost village, inhabited by the dead and the dying'.
The epidemic now has the village in its fevered grip.
`The sound of the rain drumming on the roof of the hospital marquee became a symphony of sorrow for those incarcerated under the canvas. They might be dry under the tarpaulin covering, but they were all captives who couldn't escape the nightmare thudding of the watery aerial cascade above their heads.'
Worse, the village pub, like all other public places is placed in a curfew. Yet common sense prevails if only for public morale and the pub open for a few hours each day. Whilst the living get by, so does the disease.
Of course as the story develops the disease is identified. At this point too many similar stories would run their course. Yet the author burrows into convoluted politics, dealing with the horrific calamity which not just threatens this tucked away village but possibly the whole country. Feathers are ruffled as departmental domains are defended whilst those on the ground despair at the lack of progress. For what Mr Porter has in mind involves a dastardly plot hatched during the colossal struggle of World War 2.
Yet something is not quite right. The vector of the disease, how the authorities react creates in the readers mind further suspicions which point to something even more sinister.
And we are not disappointed.
`Pestilence' is a multi layered plot at which the British truly excel. The characters, from the rustic villager, quaint old ladies, harried doctors, conniving officials, suspicious military types people the pages of this fast moving thriller. Porter's economical use of language, the simplicity of words readily evoke both tumultuous and more benign moods. There is one hilarious scene as two entwined lovers fall for each other. The valve radio just happens to play songs which are so appropriate to the scene which through perspicacious attention Mr Porter portrays with aplomb.
The research is excellent, the imagery, the scenes are easily conjured for our minds to create a satisfying mystery. The reprehensible plot hatched by heinous minds is just a part of the mosaic where lives are promiscuously gambled with. Worse lives become expendable as sinister and deviousness individuals would try and use the deaths of too many of the innocent for their own shady ends a decade after the Messerschmitt's crash to realize their dark intent. Sinister forces are indeed festering malignantly in the background.
Lutz Barz -- Lutz Barz, Australian Author/Reveiwer
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