Though it has taken me an obscenely long time to get around to reading Shadows in the Mist after being sent a copy by author Brian Moreland himself, I'm so glad that I finally got my lazy butt in gear. Just like his novel Dead of Winter that I reviewed for The Zed Word (clicken ze link HERE to read those fantastic prose), Moreland's Shadows in the Mist was kind of the perfect book for me because it combined my secret passion for history - more specifically the history of Nazi Germany - with the supernatural, my favorite subgenre of horror. There's also some pseudo-zombie action, so seriously, how could I resist? Enough about me though, let's talk about the book.
Shadows in the Mist is a frame story involving two members of the Chambers family - Sean and his grandfather Jack. During a particularly bloody battle in Germany's Hurtgen Forest in World War II, Lieutenant Chambers and his faithful band of soldiers, who dubbed themselves The Lucky Seven, came face to face with one of the Nazi's most evil and deadly creations that wiped out Jack's entire platoon. As Sean travels to Germany to finally give these men a proper burial, he reads his grandfather's diary, which recounts every detail of a most unbelievable and terrifying story.
Shadows in the Mist is an engaging and at times quite endearing romp that takes readers across the ocean and back in time to tell this very unique tale. Moreland did exceptional research on all things World War II for this novel, going so far as to travel to Germany to actually see the locations that he would be writing about, like the Hurtgen Forest. Moreland's descriptions of each location then became so vivid that I could easily picture the characters in them like I was watching a movie. From the dense, foggy, and hilly atmosphere of the Hurtgen, to an abandoned barn where the platoon holes up, to the final location in a Nazi-occupied church, Moreland expertly builds the story up and keeps the mystery and suspense alive all the way through. All the military mumbo-jumbo that usually goes over my head in books and movies is laid out here so that any reader can follow along and immerse themselves in a story that just gets better and better with each new chapter.
In the story, Jack Chambers and his men have been asked to join a secret mission with Special Unit X-2 commandos to take over a Nazi command post. When they reach the town of Richelskaul, the men encounter the Nazis' secret weapon for winning the war. Nazi soldiers in their gray SS uniforms wielding swords and wearing creepy gas masks (like on the cover up there) soon reveal themselves to be virtually unkillable by the Americans' weapons - round after round of machine gun fire only seems to piss them off. Zombies? Maybe. But these creations have also apparently slaughtered some of their own fellow Nazis, so the question for the rest of the novel is just what are these creatures, who created them, and how? It is quite a while before the answer is finally revealed, but is worth the wait, as it was something that I thought was very unique and unexpected. It jibes well with the Nazis known obsession with the occult and makes you think, "Oh, yeah. The Nazis would have totally done that." The only part of this whole Nazi plan that furrowed my brow a bit is that they had to rely on Jews to accomplish it.
The kinship and loyalty of the Lucky Seven was one of the best elements of the novel. These guys are a true band of brothers who have been through many battles and missions with Lt. Chambers and have dedicated themselves to each other in order to stick by their motto that "everyone lives." The men all have different backgrounds that readers slowly learn about, and one of my favorite traits that Moreland included was that they each had some kind of good luck charm that they carried with them - a baseball, a deck of cards, a watch. The humanity of these men in turn gives the book the humanity it needs to be more than just an action or history or supernatural novel. Though the reader knows from the beginning of the novel that only Jack survives by the end, it still sucks to read about each character's demise. The differences between the Lucky Seven and the X-2 unit that they go on this mission with is made quite clear from the beginning so you know who the real bad guys and good guys are. Good dialogue to me is always an indication of a good writer, and while some of the characters do get a little wordy here and there, overall the dialogue in Shadows in the Mist felt real and believable, both for the time and because of all the military terminology.
Horror hounds expecting a read with lots of bloody battles and body parts need not look any further. As the sorta-zombie SS monsters can't seem to operate firearms, their use of swords (and in one satisfying instance, their bare hands) lets them kill our heroes in very gory ways - right from the moment where a soldier exits a building missing an arm and trying to hold in his intestines with the other. Battle descriptions are just as vivid and real as everything else Moreland writes about, some so much that I found myself making disgusted faces while reading. And that's not a criticism, that's a compliment! When I was reading Dead of Winter, I felt like I was reading a script to a great horror movie and the same can be said for Shadows in the Mist. With the right actors and the right budget, Shadows could be an awesome supernatural horror flick - that image of the Nazi with the gas mask on could be iconic!
Since I've now read two of his books and enjoyed them both immensely, Moreland has proven himself to be a very promising new voice in horror literature, and I'm sure that he has many more thrilling tales to tell us. Coming up later this year are two new books from Moreland - The Witching Hour will be available this August, with The Devil's Woods following in December. Check out his website http://www.brianmoreland.com/ to read more reviews, and if you plan on reading Shadows in the Mist, I would definitely recommend you check out the section on the research he did, if only for the pictures from Germany because they really enhanced the reading experience for me.