This was the very first horror novel I read. If I recall my older sister lent me a copy when I was 13 or 14, too young for a book like this. Older sisters being what they are, she probably wanted me to get nightmares. That is an aside, as this was my gateway book to the horror genre, which I like to dip back into every now and again. The late James Herbert was the foremost horror writer in the UK of his generation, followed by Shaun Hutson, who like to shock rather than build layers of scare. Of course the most inventive UK horror writer is Clive Barker and his Books of Blood still knock spots off anything else out there.
Back to The Rats and it’s a simple tale (tail). Overly large rats infest the east end of London, they obtain a taste for human flesh and carry a disease that kills anyone bitten within 24 hours. What’s not to like. My original copy of the book has long since gone to a charity shop, but my replacement was printed to celebrate the books 40th anniversary, with an excellent foreword written by Neil Gaiman. As Neil writes, it was James’ first book and his writing improved with every subsequent book. The main character is slightly two dimensional and some of the back stories for the minor characters feel overly developed. The book is also quite dated, but not necessarily in a bad way. It took many years for James to find a publisher, and you can tell that it was written in the 1960’s, with derelict waste ground, a result of German bombs during the second world war, becoming breeding grounds for the rats. There is also only one female character, the main character’s partner, who even though she works is still expected to cook a hot breakfast each day for her man, and then cook supper in the evening. There something else in the book which dates it, but I’m not going to mention that here. You would probably guess what I’m talking about if you read the book.
Despite all this the plot moves along in a fast pace all the way through, with a couple of nice twists and turns, and even 35 years after I first read it, re-reading it was hugely enjoyable. The book is also fairly short, especially when compared to some of Stephen King’s tomes, and is all the better for it. The sequels, Lair and Domain make this a great trilogy of rat based horror. Maybe I should did out an old Shaun Hutson book next, or something by the late Richard Laymon. This blog sure is bringing back some memories for me.