Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon by Gavin Smith

March 30, 2017

1987, THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. For Captain Vadim Scorlenski and the rest of the 15th Spetsnaz Brigade, being scrambled to unfamiliar territory at no notice, without a brief or proper equipment, is more or less expected; but even by his standards, their mission to one of the United States’ busiest cities stinks…

World War III was over in a matter of hours, and Vadim and most of his squad are dead, but not done. What’s happened to them, and to millions of civilians around the world, goes beyond any war crime; and Vadim and his team – Skull, Mongol, Farm Boy, Princess, Gulag, the Fräulein and New Boy – won’t rest until they’ve seen justice done.

This week’s flavour of armageddon is brought to you by a splash of nineteen eighties nostalgia, a dash of Cold War paranoia, and a big old chunk of flesh eating zombies. The latest from Gavin Smith pits a squad of mismatched soldiers against, well, just about everyone frankly. Let the madness commence!

Captain Vadim Scorleski is the consummate professional soldier. He has spent years honing his craft and is now a killing machine. The captain will follow orders to the letter because that is what a good soldier would do. I found myself picturing him as a world-weary Dolph Lundgren-esque type. He has seen better days but he has nothing outside the military, he has nowhere else to go. The army, and more specifically Spetsnaz, are his de-facto family. It’s only after he dies and is then reanimated that he begins to question his purpose. All that is keeping him and his team from being the same as all the other mindless rampaging ghouls is the fact that they have already been trained to be monsters. The draw of fresh blood and brains may be strong, but the iron will of self-discipline is far stronger…at least for now.

The other members of the unit are also pretty cool. Gulag is the mouthy one, all bluster and barely contained violence. I’ll admit he was a personal favourite. Skull and Princess are the snipers, both silent and both equally deadly. Farm Boy is just unlucky. Mongol is the dependable medic and I’m sure you can guess hazard a guess how New Boy got his name. Finally there is the Fraulein, Vadim’s loyal second in command. If there is one member of the team who comes close to being as much of a badass as the Captain, it would be her.  While reading I had a niggling thought that the easy camaraderie/bitchy snarking between the team members reminded me of something. I couldn’t think for the life of me what it was but eventually the penny dropped. The members of the 15th Spetsnaz Brigade put me in mind of the ABC Warriors from 2000AD. Ignoring the fact that the ABC Warriors are all robots, and that Vadim and his soldiers are undead, at least the majority are, the comparison seems apt. There are characters that fit similar roles in each team. Vadim is the leader and could quite easily be the equivalent of Hammerstein, both are blind to almost everything but their sense of duty. Gulag and Blackblood share the same potentially treacherous nature. Skull could easily be Joe Pineapples, the strong silent type (perhaps minus the cross dressing). The Fraulein could be Deadlock. The list goes on and on. My ultimate point is that Smith does a great job of creating a believable team dynamic. I never doubted for a second that the ABC Warriors were a perfect team and the same is true here. There is that simple, playful banter between comrades who know one another well and work together as a cohesive unit. They squabble and snap at one another from time to time but they’ll also do anything for their teammates. Just because the majority of them are now dead doesn’t mean anything is going to change.

After the dawning realisation that the world has changed irrevocably finally sinks in our anti-heroes set out to discover who is responsible. They have been used, abused and then left for (un)dead. Time for some good old fashioned hard-core vengeance. The rest of the novel follows their journey, tracking the first steps towards them achieving that goal. From New York they travel, via the Atlantic, to the Great Britain. Good news everyone, our country is completely screwed as well.

Special Purposes needed a soundtrack recommendation that perfectly captured the insanity and madness of the plot. Hell, the lead characters are heroes one minute and eating someone’s entrails the next. The music needed to be something special. I ended up listening to the wonderfully named “Viking Warriors from Outer Space” by Epic North. It’s chock full of heavy industrial noise that fits neatly with the idea of heavily armed un-dead Spetsnaz rampaging through the streets of the US and the UK.

This book is the sort of thing you need to be reading when you crave all the action, all the explosions and more than a little bit of horror. I do hope there will be other novels featuring these characters. The story ends with the suggestion that there is likely to be more. Sometimes when you reading you want nothing more complicated than out and out mayhem and a breakneck plot. This book has all that in spades.

Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is published by rebellion and is available from 6th April

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