Top critical review
the Riley family solves for X
Reviewed in the United States on June 26, 2021
So, I've dumped on crap EMP doomsday prepper books before, and I guess I'm back at it. I've read a heap of Grace Hamilton post-apocalyptic books, and liked some and didn't care for some. This EMP Catastrophe series she's got cooking is hands down my least favorite of anything she'd written. I've read the first and am halfway thru the third. What's my blood pressure lookin' like? It's been dangerously spiking whilst I waited for these characters to get their heads out of their asses. At last check, heads still in asses.
I guess it's more juicy in these post-apoc novels if the family were scattered out and about when the EMP drops. It's the case with this one, thus giving us three separate plot threads to follow. It's about a family who left Chicago to buy a dilapidated mountain hotel near Galina, Illinois. So, right away, you can intuit that these city slickers know nada about surviving and homesteading.
Maybe some plot spoilers.
The opening chapter finds Matthew Riley and his ex-Army dad, David, in an antique shop in Madison, Wisconsin, looking for pieces to furnish their River Rock Hotel in prep for the summertime grand opening. There's a lot of work that needs doing, what with a run-down hotel in dire need of renovation.
Matthew's wife, Kathleen, and their bored teenaged daughter, Allison, are at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center visiting Kathleen's baby brother, Max, the drug mule, as he sits behind bars awaiting sentencing.
The rest of the fam, Matthew's mom, Ruth, and his twelve-year-old son, Patton, are back home at their fixer-upper hotel, holding down the fort, puttering around.
So, there, that's everyone's 10-20 when the SHTF. The author ensures that each participant has a horrible time of it reuniting with each other. For Matthew and his dad, it's over eighty miles of walking from the antique shop to their mountain resort. To complicate matters, David, who recently had a heart attack, deliberately left his nitroglycerin pills at home because he hated taking them. And then there's Matthew's Pollyanna attitude of helping everyone everywhere. I'm only surprised his heart of gold doesn't get their butts kicked more often. By the way, David may have been in the Army, but he, his weak heart, and his string of conflicting advice prove to be as useless in the end times as Matthew's master's in business.
Kathleen and Allison have a longer trek, but at least they end up with two mountain bikes with which to navigate the one hundred eighty-eight miles of distance from Chicago to Galina. Kathleen being a math teacher, she has a habit of treating obstacles as if they were math problems. "She always knew how to solve for X," we read.
A middling 2.5 out of 5 stars for this, my least favorite Grace Hamilton read. Listen, I get it that, were an EMP to detonate in real life, this is probably how things would shake out and how people would actually behave. Yes, the criminal element will run roughshod, but most folks would assume the power would come back on shortly and, so, base their decisions on that. But you and I, we know the power won't be restored any time soon, so it's incredibly frustrating to read about these characters whose actions you disagree with so vehemently, knowing what you know. It even makes sense why these characters would vacillate so much with their decision-making. They don't realize they're in a post-apoc grid-down story. It'll soon dawn on the survivors that when society crumbles and lawlessness ensues, a different set of rules applies and that those who seek to harm you do not deserve a second crack at it. Matthew allows a marauder to get away in this book. He does it again, next time with two assailants, in the second book.
Anything positive to say? Some. I like the notion of using a hotel as an apocalyptic stronghold. And I like the grandmother Ruth, Kathleen's estranged friend from college (and doomsday prepper), Rhonda, and the punkish young woman, Jade, despite what Jade does in this book out of the blue. I would've added the kid, Patton, as a likable character, but I'm reading the third book right now, and his dumb actions have got me grinding my teeth.
Speaking of dumb actions, let's talk about our main protagonist, Matthew. In any other book, Matthew would be the sort of inept leader the actual hero would oust and supplant. Observe this jerk as, thru the course of three books, he mutates from an oblivious bleeding heart to an insensitive tyrant. The worse thing is he doesn't know what he's doing. Watch this goof as he tries to reconcile his idealism with looting a gas station. There's a moment that had me gloating in which Matthew admits his inadequacy. "He felt useless," the narrative imparts. He only gets worse.
What else am I not okay with? I'd already mentioned how useless Matthew's dad is, given that he was in the Army. I also question why, when Kathleen got the drop on that gang of thugs, she didn't take their truck. But maybe she needed the cardio that only an extensive bicycle ride could give her. Her daughter, by the way, is a whiny brat who becomes more sympathetic as the series goes on. Based on how frustrating a read this was, I don't recommend this book or series, sorry (not sorry).