Hater begins with a random act of senseless violence. A seemingly ordinary man brutally attacks an older woman with no apparent provocation, on a public street, surrounded by people on their way to work. It’s the kind of shocking act we’ve largely become numb to. The crowd, including our protagonist Danny, react with fear and horror, but then return to the grind of their lives. It’s become something to discuss with co-workers briefly, then forget as our personal lives demand our attention again.
Like all good horror stories, Moody takes as his starting point something we know can happen, but don’t consciously worry about. Yes, the people around us could suddenly snap, but we worry about that as often as we worry about sharks, or being attacked while we shower. It’s a frightening thought, but how likely is it to actually happen? This is Danny’s mindset, until he sees someone else attacked. And then someone else…
Hater has a lot in common with zombie stories, but isn’t exactly a zombie story. It’s hard to find a precise example of what category it falls into, but zombie apocalypse tales is probably the closest as a starting point for understanding what Moody’s done here. The main thrust of this book is not just the horror of the violence, but what that does to the fabric of society. People fear going to work, they worry about being in enclosed spaces. Most chillingly, they worry about their kids, not only out of fear they’ll be attacked but out of fear their children will attack them. Anyone could be a danger, therefore everyone is a danger. We watch the social structure crumble as the story progresses and the characters realize no one has answers, and no one can be fully trusted. From this point, Moody drops a game changing twist, pulling the rug out from under the reader.
I was surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did, for a couple of reasons. First, I’m wary of stories drenched in a bleak worldview. Watching the world fall apart is only interesting if I care about those remaining who are struggling to survive and adapt to the new reality. David Moody made Danny and his family people I could recognize and empathize with, and invested me in their lives. This ties in to the second surprise, because Danny’s life isn’t a field of roses. He’s just scraping by, in a job he hates, and his marriage is at the breaking point. He’s miserable, anchored by responsibility to a life that isn’t what he hoped for and struggling to make the best of it. But as you see him struggle, you genuinely sense he’s a good man. You’d recognize the type if you found him in a Nick Hornby book. Unfortunately, his challenge is the world he’s known crumbling round him. Hater is a fast, fierce, entertaining book, and belongs on the to read list of any horror fan.