In 1998, around the time of the release of the second game in the storied survival horror franchise, Resident Evil saw the first release in what would be a long running (kind of) series of tie-in novels that would see the first four games in the series adapted by author S.D. Perry. We would also see two original novels that would serve as expansions upon the Resident Evil universe. While the games were tense shooters with a palpable sense of dread, the novels found ways of making you care about the character and the world they lived in, and took strides to making you believe that, as B-movie as the plot of RE is, this could really happen. A virus could really run rampant in a major metropolitan area, and we would have no idea what to do about it. While the prologue sets up the story of a series of cannibalistic murders nicely, the fact that it is doled out with newspaper articles is a nice touch of realism that sets the stage for what this series of novels will be about: Real people dealing with a crazy and almost unbelievable situation. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the first chapter of Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy.
This chapter opens with Jill Valentine frantically trying to get ready for work. The single greatest aspect of this book, or any of the books in the series for that matter, is S.D. Perry’s dedication to the characters of Resident Evil. Jill may be something of a hardcore soldier who cracks wise with her buddy Chris, but she has seen little character development over the course of the games. While Jill is probably my favorite character in the series, I can’t help but think that she is a little flat when it comes to the games. Fortunately, the Umbrella Conspiracy wastes little time in developing a backstory for Jill that hasn’t been improved upon since this book. Jill Valentine is a former thief that was forced to leave a life of crime behind her when her father, Dick Valentine, went to prison for what is alluded to be a life sentence. Jill was then recruited by the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Squad) to use her skills on the right side of the law for a change. While this may sound good, Jill is finding life in Raccoon City underwhelming and secretly longs for the excitement of her old life as a thief. But what saves her from going back to her thieving ways is two little girls named Becky and Priscilla McGee. The two girls from across the street quickly adopt Jill and give her the sense belonging that she didn’t know she was searching for.
And then the two girls are the first victims of the supposed cannibal murders residing somewhere within the forests of Raccoon City. The two girls deaths ties Jill emotionally to the terror of Raccoons community. Over the past few weeks, there have been reports of hikers and campers being attacked and murdered by a small group of people. What few survivors there are, all claim that the attackers were cannibals that attacked swiftly and retreated to the surround forest/mountain region of Raccoon. While the regular police had been investigating the attacks, the RPD STARS had been waiting for their chance to look into the case. This point in the investigation is where we are introduced to the second main protagonist in the series, Chris Redfield.
Chris is also dealing with a loss as well. Billy Rabbitson, a childhood friend of Chris has recently gone missing. While this is bad enough as it is, Chris was called the night Billy went missing, babbling on and on about uncovering something while at work…at the Umbrella Corporations research division within Raccoon City. While his disappearance is possibly coincidental, the fact that Billy knew something about Umbrella, the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world, is not lost on Chris. To him, Billy’s disappearance seems almost too coincidental. Chris can’t help but think that Billy’s disappearance is linked to what he found out while at Umbrella somehow, he just can’t figure out why.
So from the word go, you instantly know where the two lead protagonists are and what their motivations are as well. Chris and Jill are two cops that are personally invested in an almost overwhelmingly gruesome spree of murders that they both want to see put to rest. From here though, you get to see the majority of the STARS team. There’s Barry Burton, the teams resident second in command, muscle and weapons expert, Joseph Frost, the teams vehicle specialist, Brad Vickers, pilot and communications operator, and Albert Wesker, team leader. Wesker and Barry are given some time to shine here, although it’s brief, the reader is shown that Wesker is a consummate professional that is nigh impossible to read. Barry on the other hand is the teams longest standing member and the man responsible for Chris Redfield being on the team. Barry is something of a father figure on the team, keeping everyone in line while Wesker does the real work of dealing with people like the Chief of Police, Brian Irons, who seemingly wish to stonewall progress on the cannibal murder case. Fans of the video game series will know Irons’ true intentions but for right now, Irons is just a prick because he can be one.
This chapter is a great set up with a bunch of lingering questions outside of the actual murders within Raccoon’s forest zone. While the STARS teams are being sent in to investigate, the inexperienced Bravo team is going in first for something of a reconnaissance mission, something that we find out isn’t out f the norm for STARS, but given the gravity of this case, the Alpha team, which includes Chris and Jill as members, feel they should be on the front lines. But of course, this may just be because Chris and Jill have much more invested in these murders than most. The of course, there is the Spencer Estate, nestled away right in the middle of all the murders. The umbrella-owned residence is almost too big a clue to overlook to Chris, but his theories are falling upon deaf ears.
Will we get to see our heroes face the horror and come up on top? We’ll have to wait and see…for now.