This little horror novella (a mere 22thousand words) packs quite a punch. I started reading after a long day at work, trying to catch up with my book pile, and I have about an hour of commute. Normally, I drop the book at the door when I get home. I need to check emails, after all. There are very few books that "make it past the door", but in this case, I needed to know what happened next. So I made myself a coffee (while reading), toasted a bun (still reading) and ate it (while reading).
The test of any good horror/suspense story is – can I put it down? In this case, “Day 94” passed with flying colours. I couldn't. It's tightly written and plotted, with twists that keep you on the edge of your seat, like it or not. I finished this in one go, and I had a great time throughout.
The premise is horrifying all by itself. A family gets trapped in their house, while civilization crumbles around them. A mysterious plague transforms people into 'morphs', this author's take on zombies. Under siege, hungry, cold, terrified, the mother, Joslin, writes a diary. Re-reading it, she thinks about the entries and comments on them, while facing the challenges that are ahead: finding food, keeping her children alive, and facing the greatest fear of them all – an ally who has turned into 'the enemy'.
There is more than a dash of "The Shining" by Stephen King in there, the crazed husband trying to break down the door with an axe, and Grant, subsequently, in my mind, looked like Jack Nicholson. That's not a bad thing – it's a classic, written by one of the masters of horror.
The book has a few issues, of course, and some aren't even the writer's fault. On my reader, the ebook started with the climactic battle, then stops, and then comes copyright and author's name and then the book actually starts, jolting me right out, until I realised that this was just the cover blurb. In paperbacks, I don't like that kind of formatting, and I skip it, but in ebooks, I loathe it. It gives away too much of the book, and starting something with the most dramatic scene and then ripping the reader right out didn't win any brownie points with this reader. The formatting that shows that it's an excerpt comes through nicely on the PDF, but on the ereader looks exactly the same. Please change that.
Secondly, the editing could have been better. "Through" is spelled "thru" several times, and I thought, OK, that's the first person narrator's quirk, but then it became "through", so I assume it was passed over in the editing. There were a few instances of missing words and commas as well, which have a way to jar me out of the text. And in such asuspenseful text, that's not what I want to think about. I want to fear for the characters' survival rather than think "hang on, there's a 'the' missing".
The information we get about the author is that it's a debut, and there are a few insecurities. Joslin and the other characters could use a little more depth, the story could be a little longer, maybe another five to ten thousand words more. The text veers wildly between past tense and present tense, confusing me a bit about when the action takes place (and not just in the diary entries). In places, I would have wanted more detail to really feel more of it, but, for those small flaws, the story passed the real test: I couldn't put it down. The author has an excellent feeling for suspense, which many more advanced writers don't have, and the sheer tension of the text overshadowed the little glitches in craft and editing.
Well done, Mrs Slate.