Judge Anderson: Rookie – “The Abyss”

Written by: Alec Worley
Published by: Abaddon Books

Synopsis: Moriah Blake, leader of the notorious terror group ‘Bedlam,’ has been captured, but her followers are still at large, and Anderson’s been sent to Psych-Block 06 to psychically interrogate her. She’s able to get just one snippet of information – Bedlam’s planning on detonating a huge bomb, somewhere in the sector – before Blake’s followers storm the cell and release her, taking over the entire Psych-Block. In the chaos immediately after the takeover, Anderson has to make a choice: get out before they lock it down, or stay – unarmed and alone – to find out where the bomb is…

After the Silence of the Lambs-esque “cat and mouse” chase for a serial killer seen in “Heartbreaker”, the second book in the Judge Anderson: Rookie trilogy opts for a more action-orientated plot which sees Judge Anderson trapped in an insane asylum in the midst of a terrorist siege. Riffing on the classic Die Hard formula, and even echoing the plot of Dredd 3D in places, Alec Worley strips away all the trappings of the Justice Department leaving Anderson alone and outnumbered against a group of fanatic terrorists and the criminally insane. Worley’s taut narrative conveys the feeling of isolation and desperation as Anderson is forced to improvise. With such a strong cinematic element to this tale, it is easy to imagine the situation unfold in the mind’s eye, thanks to identifiable visual cues from countless “building under siege” stories seen in TV and films.

Aware that her Psi abilities give her an edge on the ordinary criminal, Worley puts Anderson in a situation where she is unable to use them by setting the action in an insane asylum. This also allows Worley to explore the concept of madness and the danger that Psi-Judges face when exploring the mind of the insane as some of the madness may linger. There some wonderful passages dealing with insanity and Worley purposefully blurs the line between reality and fantasy with some effective twist and turns in the plot. It’s an effective sub-plot and one that elevates the tale from a simple Die Hard clone into a story tailored towards the character’s strengths. From the startling opening to the unrelentingly fast-paced conclusion, Worley pumps pure adrenalin onto the page, rarely allowing Anderson (or the reader) to a catch a breath and rest.

There’s definitely an Eighties movie vibe to this particular story, mostly due to the structural similarities to Die Hard, but there is a surprising transition into horror midway through the tale that sees Anderson morph from a John McClane role into more of an Ellen Ripley figure. I’m torn about this section as it was certainly effective and one of the death sequences for a supporting character left me genuinely unnerved, but upon reflection after finishing the entire story, it did feel a bit out of place, and ultimately derailed the tone of the adventure by introducing an unnecessary additional sci-fi element. I think the story would have been much stronger without its inclusion, but that said, it did create some unsettling moments that stayed with me long after finishing the novella. Worley proves he has a natural affinity for writing the fight sequences, with thrilling shoot-outs described in such fluid detail that it is hard to imagine the bullets whizzing over the tops of knocked-over tables.

Despite a few minor missteps in the narrative, “The Abyss” remains a vital piece of reading for Judge Anderson fans, showcasing the character’s strength even when her psi-ability is removed from the equation. While we’ve seen Judge Dredd in this role many times in the comics, and even in the 2012 film, there is an enduring sense of vulnerability to Anderson’s experience as the solo hero against the hordes that makes her story all the more engaging. Also, her unique perspective on Justice provides the final act with a completely different tone as she goes out of her way to prevent bloodshed and riots, while Dredd would simply solve the problem with his Lawgiver. Worley has a firm handle on the character and her optimism for the future of the city, contrasting against Dredd’s robotic duty to the Law by placing the citizens at the heart of all her decisions.

With pulse-pounding action running through the core of this story like a stick of seaside rock, “The Abyss” is an absolute delight to read and will no doubt evoke memories of bullet-ridden 80’s action movies in all those who read it. However, dig a little deeper and there is also a fascinating story about fanaticism, extremism and the thin line between sanity and insanity. All that for the price of a pint!

Score – ★★★★

Judge Anderson: Rookie – “The Abyss” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judge Anderson: Year One Omnibus, also available on Amazon.

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