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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ned Kelly as zombie hunter! My review of Timothy Bowden's "Undead Kelly" [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Here is my review of Timothy Bowden's "Undead Kelly" which, of course, is written from the vantage point of being a Ned Kelly aficionado.

Recently while looking around Amazon's website I ran across a new Ned Kelly related novel entitled "Undead Kelly" written by Timothy Bowden which was published in October 2013. The Kindle ebook version of it was such a terrific price that I took a chance on it and, boyo, am I glad I did! I am now seriously considering doing a double dip and getting a hard copy of this book, too!

Here is the blurb from the back of the book just so you get a taste of what the book is all about before I delve in to my thoughts on it:

"Melbourne, 1880 Something evil has appeared in the Australian outback - the dead are rising, and stalking the lonely bush tracks. Officially, they do not exist, their attacks attributed to the work of natives or madmen. But one man knows they are real, and is determined to expose the truth, Ned Kelly. Dubbed ‘Undead Kelly’, Ned desires one thing - to expose those responsible for unleashing this plague and hold them to account. But Ned is imprisoned, facing trial for the murder, and is sure to hang. His plan hinges on his one ally - a Remittance Man, an English wastrel banished to the colonies by his embarrassed family. A cynical man, more at risk of being devoured by his own internal monsters than the undead. Can he find the courage to emulate Ned, rise above expectations and become the saviour of the colony? Because somebody has to stop the rot…"

Ok, now to the meat of the matter. Ned Kelly and the rest of the Kelly Gang as zombie hunters (and they really do kick some serious zombie butt) is quite an intriguing premise. Having historical figures doing battle with the undead is not entirely without precedence as recently there has been a plethora of book along those lines, such as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." I have never really considered myself to be a fan of this genre not having dipped into any of it but when I saw the title "Undead Kelly" and the description from above I wondered if this really would be my cup of tea? I was a bit curious how the Kellys would be portrayed and after reading the free preview sample that Amazon offers I nearly fell over myself trying to get to the checkout page! You don't have to be a zombie fan to enjoy this book. This book has so many layers and textures to it that you can actually overlook the zombies and the gory violence associated with them and just enjoy the story regardless.The characterizations in "Undead Kelly" are so well drawn and the mastery of language is exquisite! There is much mirth and wit in this book, too. I literally cannot get this book nor the character of the Remittance Man out of my head.

Just as one of the reviews at the bottom of the Amazon page said the writing does bring Arthur Conan Doyle to mind. I actually half expected Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to pop up at any moment in the proceedings! Considering the fact that the fictional Holmes would have been "born" around 1854 (nearly the same time as Ned) it would not have been entirely impossible to find him in the story. If someone has not already done a Holmes/Kelly meet up in a book or story then maybe they should. I would certainly buy it.
Who the "Remittance Man" really was in anyone's guess, but he put me to mind of another great literary character George MacDonald Fraser's Harry Flashman with all of his witty self-serving asides and conniving thought processes and haughtily belittling of those he considers below him. I do hope that Mr. Bowden will write a book detailing the Remittance Man's sojourn in London and what led to him being sent half way across the globe.This could be a whole series in itself. I would buy all those, too!
I will refer to the "Remittance Man" as RM (as he is referred to at times in the book) because I am not quite sure of his name. He tells his sour/dour landlady (whom he unsuccessfully tries to bed in an attempt to get a "sharp reduction in rent") that his name is Robert Adams. He tells Maggie Skillion (whom he does have, ahem,  "success" with) that his name is William. He tells David Gaunson (Ned's solicitor)  that his name is Charles..but when Maggie calls him William in front of Gaunson he has to cover and say his middle name is William...he  tells a hotel clerk that his name is Henry Spencer, and so on, you get the picture.

 It seems that Mr. Gaunson has hired RM as his legal secretary and sends him to the Old Melbourne Gaol to take a statement from his client Ned Kelly. When RM arrives he has quite an amusing interlude with the gaol governor Mr. Castieau. All of his dealings with Castieau were among those in the book that made me howl with laughter. I still laugh when I think about it. It is worth the price of admission alone!

Speaking of laughter, I just had to add this bit from the book as it made me literally laugh out loud:

"Before the fight could develop further or tail off, Steve came running up. The others watched him with interest – Steve was a natural horseman, who had a bowlegged gate, which, when combined with his penchant for high heel riding boots and strapped moleskins, meant he was fascinating to watch run. Like a duck on loose gravel, said Joe, but not nearly as graceful.
As I said, the author has a way with words. He really paints a picture.

Ok, back to the proceedings, and be advised that spoilers abound!

RM meets up with Ned Kelly and Ned starts to tell him about his life and how he came to be incarcerated. This book is very imaginative in that all of the Kelly events we know of now have a zombie (what the book calls "Blighters") element involved. The way each incident is explained really makes for fascinating reading. For instance, the very young Ned and Dan meet a Blighter on a bush path and the Blighter is taken out by zombie hunter Harry Power before it can attack the lads. Harry gives Ned an old gun and tells him to protect his family and that the only way to kill one of these undead is to go for a head shot. When Ned and Dan go to the body for a closer look young Dan goes shrieking home in the utmost of haste at the sight before him while Ned lingers. So begins Ned Kelly's career as a zombie hunter! Later events such as the boxing match where Ned fought "the Wild Man" who was a leather suited and masked Blighter goes into gory detail of how Ned had to defeat the creature who broke free from his restraints and nearly takes a bite out of him. Once bitten YOU then become one of THEM! When Constable Fitzpatrick goes to the Kelly homestead (the book wrongly says he was sent directly by Hare) he spies a comely lass on the way and (as is his standard operating procedure) tries to have his wicked way with her not realising she is a Blighter until it is too late. CHOMP! When he finally to the homestead and Mrs Kelly realises what has happened to him she tries to literally take his head off but Grace brings in the saw instead of the ax. After Fitzpatrick manages to escape from the homestead and gets back to the police station Superintendent Hare chains him up and locks him into a shed for future "use." (Sounds like something the dastardly Detective Ward would set in motion!).  I guess the mistakes in the historical part are not that essential to point out since it is just fiction but you know me I can't help myself so bear with me. It so happened that Whelan was the man in charge of the station when Fitzpatrick got there and not Hare. Also where it keeps referring to Nicholson it should be Nicolson.

Other events in the Kelly timeline such as the Stringybark Creek affair are covered. During that incident McIntyre is literally treed by the other coppers after they became blighted! Also during this incident the author had the Kellys in tents instead of in the fortified/reinforced hut, thus making them take turns to sit up at night watching for Blighters. I think it would have been a better storyline explaining that the Blighters were the reason why the hut was so heavily fortified.
Later, the book has all four of the gang members at Aaron's hut and it is really a sad and unexpected turn of events.

I don't want to give away too much of the book because I would like for you to discover it for yourselves but it excites me so much that it is hard to refrain from telling so much. There were funny moments like when Maggie and RM played a prank on McIntyre (making him literally crap his pants!) while they were all in Beechworth for the pre committal trial. Once again, this is just a plot device, it could not really have happened because Mac was staying at the Beechworth Gaol rather than in a hotel. Also, I am not sure if Hare was even at the trial in Beechworth like in the story. He has Hare doing lots of the "heavy" lifting in this book.

Just a few more thoughts and bits and pieces...

When Maggie and RM have a flirtation and fling RM and Tom Lloyd are at odds so much so that RM considers Tom be "the third wheel" and sticks him with the meal check and has a few other rather imaginative and descriptive thoughts and feelings as regards him. I am still wondering if Maggie would have been having a meal at the Melbourne Club with Gaunson, but we go along with it to move events along.

The gang makes the armour to withstand both bullets and Blighter bites! What happens on the police train to Glenrowan is diabolical! (As is having one of the traps mistakenly referring to Joe Byrne as "Joe Hart").

The ending lets us know what happened to Ned's missing head. Oh, dear! Oh, my! Say it ain't so, Joe!

I guess the book could be summed up as the Kelly Gang is fighting the forces of colonial injustice in a whole new and different way!
I am not sure if the gory violence that is detailed during the Blighter fight/death scenes would make this book suitable for little kids or those who are squeamish, but it sure would make for a heck of an action packed movie. Some of the things in it like the love scenes are adult themed and if you are easily offended or are prudish, then you best just pass on by...move on...nothing to see here...but if you are open to a rollicking adventure full of wickedness and witticism, a melding of history and phantasy with a little more than a wee splash of blood, then climb right aboard for the ride of your life because as RM mused "a gentleman doesn’t walk... (...except out along the heath with an over-and-under resting broken open over one arm, while one’s tenants beat the scrub for pheasants.")