Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects book review. Today, I’m delving back into the mind of Brad-Harmer Barnes with his third novella, Vietnam Black. For those unfamiliar with him, you can check out my interview with the man himself, as well as my reviews of his first two books, North Sea Hunters and Tempest Outpost.
Background: Brad Harmer-Barnes is a British horror author. Outside novels, he both runs the Suppressing Fire pulp gaming blog and hosts Brick Fury on the site’s YouTube channel. He is a founding member and contributor to the nostalgia tinged geeky blog site, Emotionally Fourteen, and is a regular guest on their The Crazy Train podcast. Oh, and he’s also a former stand-up comic that ran the Rock N Rant comedy club in his local area.
Vietnam Black is Brad’s third novella and was released by Severed Press on February 2nd 2018. Set during the Vietnam War, we follow a group of US soldiers as they search for a missing informant. At first, they put his disappearance down to the Viet Cong, but in truth, there is something far darker lurking in the jungle …
The Good: One thing that I loved with Brad’s first two books was that it brought certain feelings to mind. By this, I mean that they reminded in part of various films that I’ve enjoyed over the years. With Vietnam Black, this rings true again. The book has a real feel of the original Predator to me, both in terms of the jungle setting, and the well-trained soldiers being hunted by a far more powerful non-human creature. If you were a fan of Schwarzenegger’s alien hunter piece, you’ll likely plenty to enjoy here.
Now, both the blurb and the front cover make it clear what the beasty is here: a colossal centipede. When I read Brad’s previous book Tempest Outpost, I was disappointed not to see any mastication in the book. If you don’t know, this is the method by which spiders (among other creatures) eat, and the process lends itself quite nicely to horror. Here, I am happy to say, there is plenty of mastication of display. It’s a horrible fate for any character, and that helps make an impact when you know it’s about to happen (or indeed has already happened).
Brad continues to shine when it comes to two things here. The first is in his ability to create vivid imagery. Whether it be action heavy scenes or simply getting a feel for the surroundings, Brad offers a good guiding hand that doesn’t allow you to get lost. The second is in the natural feel of the character interactions. Speech never feels stilted, and each character’s body language feels authentic when it’s on show.
The monster is pretty scary too. Part of this is due to the way it’s built up. One human character in particular gets some fleshing out, only to be taken out of the book by the titular monster. This works because you get attached and then get smacked in the face with the fact that anyone could die. That leaves you a little more on edge.
Without giving anything away, I really liked the ending here too.
The Bad: In terms of content warning, the story gets a little gruesome. I’d say that the mastication makes it more so than either of Brad’s previous two books, though it never gets so over the top that it’s overwhelming. I would also say that the language used by the characters is appropriate to the setting. What this means is that certain terms that would be seen as racist if used by someone now are out in force. It’s in context, of course, but if that’s a deal breaker for you, you’ll be left feeling cold here.
I really enjoy the first Predator film, but in some ways, I prefer the sequel. The reason for this is that bar Schwarzenegger’s Alan Schaefer, I felt that the characters were less fleshed out in the original. The set-up here means that I get a similar feel from Vietnam Black. Remember when I said that one character gets some fleshing out, then falls prey to the monster? Up until then, the other cast members felt comparatively thin. While this is improved upon as the story progresses, I honestly felt that the characters felt less well-rounded overall than in Brad’s previous work. The premise and general quality means that this doesn’t wreck the book at all, but it is a shame.
Final View: With Vietnam Black, Brad-Harmer Barnes has created another quick, enjoyable read that’s high on tension, and features an excellently creepy creature. It’s well worth a look-in for fans of his work, and offers plenty for those yet to discover his tales.
Final Score: 4 / 5