The first thing you need to know about The Umbrella Conspiracy, and this book series, is that you don't need a Resident Evil education to read and enjoy this. This series starts at the very beginning and mostly consists of novelizations of the video games. This first book is a novelization of the very first game, so those of you unfamiliar with the franchise can start right here. Don't be intimidated.
Raccoon City is a small town with an urban area, lots of dense forest, and rural fields. But, this quiet little community is experiencing an unusual number of vicious homicides. People are found dead in the Victory Lake area, mutilated as if mauled by a savage animal. Rumors run rampant, the police have no solid leads, so a special force is brought in to help solve the case - S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue). This division is made up of highly trained, paramilitary specialists that are privately funded.
The S.T.A.R.S. unit is divided into two teams, Alpha and Bravo. While there are a lot of members in the unit, the ones that really matter to this series are Alpha's Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Barry Burton, and Albert Wesker. If you enjoy all of those 70s and 80s team-commando paperbacks, then this group should be easily likable. The members realize that everything has been searched at Victory Lake, but there is a large abandoned mansion, the Spencer Estate, at the foothills of The Arklay Mountains that may hold some answers.
Wesker sends the Bravo team in by chopper, but soon they radio back that the helicopter has crashed in a secluded area. Alpha team is sent in by chopper and immediately discover that some of Bravo have been attacked and mutilated. Soon, the team is attacked by ravenous, skinless dogs. In an effort to stay alive, Chris and others flee through the forest to the Spencer Estate. Inside, they find that it isn't abandoned at all. Instead, the mansion is filled with research equipment, labs, and evidence of hideous experiments. When Chris is attacked by a zombie, the proverbial sh#t hits the fan.
I absolutely loved this book. I immediately finished the last page and hopped online to order the second installment, Caliban Cove. From an action-adventure stance, this book is loaded with firefights in all parts of the mansion. There's the undead to contend with, a traitor in the group, and monsters galore as the team navigates the cavernous house in search of clues. As a horror novel, it works on a violent, gory level as the survival horror introduces puzzles and traps for the squad to solve.
While there isn't much to really complain about, I did get confused often as the point of view changes to different squad members throughout the house. Rarely are they all together in the same room. Instead, the book feels slightly “epic” at 260 pages due to the constant change in characters. I really enjoyed both Rebecca and Jill, and from what I understand they make a big impact in future books. In researching the series, it appears that Wikipedia has the series listed as:
2 Caliban Cove Original novel (1998)
3 City of the Dead (1999) Novelization of Resident Evil 2 (1998) video game
4 Underworld (1999) Original novel