Desert walkers

Juggernaut, by Adam Baker, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP£12.99, 432 pages

Baker’s debut novel, Outpost, was a splendidly taut and claustrophobic end-of-the-world thriller set in the Barents Sea on a refinery platform whose crew struggle to survive while a mystery plague consumes civilisation.

Juggernaut is a prequel of sorts, set five years earlier. The Arctic wastes of Outpost are replaced by the deserts of Iraq, where a squad of mercenaries looking for Saddam’s looted gold finds instead a bioweapon that turns healthy humans into psychotic undead monsters. The virus is apparently of extraterrestrial origin, and Baker depicts its gory, fantastical mutagenic effects with relish.

His two central heroines are a credible lesbian soldier couple, and with clipped sentences and whipcrack paragraphs he maintains a relentless pace.

The author has the Lee Child habit of naming and describing in fetishistic detail every weapon, vehicle and gadget his characters use. Despite this, Juggernaut is hugely entertaining and as unstoppable as its namesake.

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