The Rats, 1974. A pulp masterpiece. Good characters, fine prose, but built upon tremendous over-the-top set pieces of RATS EATING PEOPLE!!! As advertised. Herbert does not skimp on the details.
A plague of killer rats descend upon a poorer part of London. Harris, a teacher, gets a first-hand glimpse of the horror through both his geographic position and circumstance. He’s pretty much an everyman thrust into relative importance but it works here.
Disaster novel as much as horror novel. Half the book, and half the fun is seeing the city officials deal with the epidemic in fits and starts, half-heartedly at first, and without much true success.
Hebert is very good at getting into the heads of secondary characters just long enough so we feel bad for them when they’re eaten the fuck alive. It makes it so much more satisfying – the feasting – when we can feel and empathize with the victims.
This really is a vicious book. And fantastic. (The only real flaw is that it’s very much written from a hyper-masculine 70s perspective – the women here basically just scream and get eaten and do very little otherwise.)
My first James Herbert. Won’t be my last.
The Mailman (1991) is a flawed but entertaining enough book of the seemingly mundane macabre in the grand Stephen King tradition.
Things in Willis, Arizona turn sinister after the friendly neighborhood mailman commits suicide and his odd replacement, known only as John Smith, shows up to take his place. At first, only good mail arrives with no bills or junk mail. But then comes the bad.
English teacher Doug Albin, his wife Tritia, and their son Billy are soon among the first to realize that the entire town is being drawn into an increasingly apocalyptic situation.
The first third of the book struck me as having potential but never grabbed me all the way. The second third grew into something really special and scary. But the last third lost me.
It’s not that it’s all too silly. Little very much so uses the half-comical exaggeration of the situation on purpose. It’s not even that it’s too much of a riff on a Stephen King novel: small town goes to hell when a strange monster comes by. It’s just one choice Little made late in the book that I won’t spoil that I can’t help but find extremely distasteful. It sat wrong with me for the rest of the novel.
On the plus side, the Mailman himself is a very interesting creation. He’s half-order, half-chaos, hung up and taking very seriously his job in the Postal Service, operating in his sadism and destruction without much of a rational goal in sight. But it works. There are several genuinely creepy set pieces, as well, and some well-drawn characters. It’s just that one choice plus a few logical lapses late in the book that dampened my enjoyment.
The Mailman is a work of much potential that drops the ball.