CHOKEHOLD / AUTHOR: DAVID MOODY / PUBLISHER: ST MARTIN’S GRIFFIN / RELEASE DATE: 1ST DECEMBER
David Moody’s latest trilogy set in his post-apocalyptic world of rampaging ‘Haters’ and cowering, battle-weary ‘Unchanged’ comes to a brutal, bloody and, frankly, thoroughly depressing conclusion in Chokehold. Even by the standards of the most downbeat end of the world stories, this is grim and hopeless stuff.
At the end of All Roads End Here, released earlier this year, an enclave of human survivors fell into chaos and devastation, an exchange of nuclear weapons commenced and a few desperate survivors – including Matthew Dunne, the closest the series gets to a “hero” figure – take shelter in an underground refuge hoping to sit out the raging destruction. As Chokehold begins, Matt and his fellow refugees are forced to abandon their bolthole when it is breached by an avalanche of filthy waste-strewn slurry. Out on the twilight post-nuclear surface, the group must face the horrors of potential radiation poisoning (never really explored as the story progresses) and the hordes of ferocious, enraged Haters roaming the blasted landscape. Meanwhile, other human survivors are banding together for a final assault against the Haters who are organising themselves into a powerful militaristic force, each anxious to obtain a chokehold (hence the title) on the other to obtain final dominion over what’s left of the human race.
With all its bluster and raggadocio, its blood and thunder, its casual, endless and rather tiring violence and savagery and unrelenting nihilism, Chokehold is an unremittingly cold and pitilessly hopeless and pessimistic read. In his determination to paint as grim a picture of his world as possible, Moody has forgotten that any book – especially something set in a post-apocalyptic environment – needs a little light and shade, some character you can invest in and root for and, more importantly, it needs to offer some hope not only for the spirit of survival but also that the people you’re reading about actually deserve to survive. Chokehold offers none of this.
Everyone – human and Hater alike – is pretty much thoroughly detestable, driven by a primal need to dominate and destroy, their every utterance peppered by tedious and lazy profanity. Chapters roll by with characters shouting and arguing with one another and beating each other up and, in the last few chapters, indulging in all-out warfare, killing, crushing and flattening every living thing in their wake. Even Matthew Dunne is sidelined here. Driven to distraction and despair by his experiences in the previous two books (and the loss of his girlfriend in the nuclear destruction depicted at the end of All Roads End Here), he adds precious little to Chokehold’s narrative beyond a voice of cynicism and weariness; a potential new romance is ended perfunctorily and his own story reaches a rather offhand conclusion.
Technically, Chokehold does what it does well enough (although Moody still can’t quite decide if his Haters are best served as an intelligent and free-thinking ‘society’ or horrible mindless killing monsters – brainless zombies by any other name) but it’s a drab, dreary and, at times, utterly unpleasant read populated by people you won’t care about in a situation so ghastly you just want it to end mercifully quickly for both them and you.