(New English Library, 1979)
"Harris would never forget the horror he felt under the gaze of the three pairs of sharp, wicked-looking eyes. It wasn't just their size, or natural repulsion of vermin that numbed him. It was because they didn't run, or try to hide. There was no sign of panic. Just three still bodies, malevolently watching the two men, as though deciding whether to swim across to them or go on their way."
There's something about iconic 70s horror paperbacks that I just can't resist. I had a really good experience with Bernard Taylor's The Godsend when I read it last autumn, and I've heard people laughing nostalgically over both James Herbert's The Rats and Shaun Hutson's Slugs (which I assume is in a similar vein) when we've had them in the shop before. So when I saw this, complete with dreadful 70s cover, stacked on our office shelves, I leapt on it and started reading it on the spot. HOW COULD I NOT?! LOOK AT THAT FREAKY FACE! Like a nice rat from the front of a pet care book crossed with a rabid wolf. I LOVE IT. The cover, not the rat, obviously. I DIGRESS.
So, the book. It was so cheesy, it was great. I mean, don't get me wrong, I quite like pet rats. James (our resident Owl Man) even has a Giant Rat called Norman who's pretty cute. We have brown country rats in our walls sometimes. But Herbert's rats are enormous mutant London black rats, which is totally different. There is no subtle psychological terror here beyond, y'know, our natural aversion to disease-ridden vermin. There's no sneaking up on people, no dastardly plotting and growing suspense. It's pretty much just a series of "ZOMG a giant rat!" END OF THE LINE FOR YOU, MY FRIEND. "I shall just pop out and leave this door open for a moment." AND NOW YOUR CHILD SLASH LOVEABLE FAMILY PET SHALL DIE. "I'll wander down into this deserted underground station to wait for the last train home." THERE'S A DIFFERENT LAST TRAIN ON THE CARDS FOR YOU, DUDE. You kinda want to scream, "Don't you know you're in a book about killer rats? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" Like the book version of a bad horror film. Someone aaaaalways goes off by themselves, someone aaaaaalways tries to play the hero. CUE RAPID AND BLOODY DEATH. Marvellous stuff.
Basic summary? There are giant rats in London. They start attacking people and animals, reducing them to a few tatters of clothing and a scattering of bones in minutes and developing quite a taste for human flesh. The attacks get larger and more public until they start to be described as 'massacres' and a state of emergency is declared. The city begins to shut down, while those mutant rats just keep on multiplyin'. By the end, action is taken to find out where the monsters came from and save London from this atrocity. BUT ARE THEY ALL DEAD? Course they're not. Given the fact that there are two sequels, OBVIOUSLY there's going to be a kind of "And then his hand twitched..." moment at the end. Y'know, like in The Terminator.
Yes, it's cheesy, yes, it's predictable, but I loved it. I raced through it in about a day and a half - a miracle, given my sloth-like reading speed this year - and happened to stumble across the second book on the office shelves just before I finished the first. I don't normally read series back to back, preferring to break up my reading with other stuff, but I couldn't resist and I'm already well over halfway through Lair. Next up: A good shop-shelf hunt for the final book, Domain. I can't WAIT to find out where this series is going to end up!
Source: I spotted this book in the shop and couldn't resist the tacky cover!