Posts Tagged ‘James Herbert’

IMG_20200619_125120By James Herbert

The unthinkable has happened. World War Three has broken out and nuclear missiles have exploded over London. Millions are killed, and pilot Steve Culver might have been one of them, except he fortuitously crosses paths with man from the ministry Alex Dealey, who’s on his way to a government shelter and, along with fellow survivor Kate, they battle through the underground to some semblance of safety, but for the survivors there’s more to worry about than radioactive fallout. Humanity thought they’d vanquished the mutant black rats, but they were merely hiding. Now they sense humanity is vulnerable, and claw their way out of the dark to claim London as their domain!

Given I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and given my predilection as a teenager for both James Herbert novels and apocalyptic fiction, it’s perhaps no great surprise that this 1984 novel was a firm favourite from my very first read, and I’ve read it many times since (as you can no doubt tell from the photo) though not for years.

The final, and in my opinion best, Rats novel (though there is a 1993 graphic novel) this sees Herbert go all out by killing millions in the opening chapters, and his evocation of nuclear annihilation and a ruined London is superbly done, playing on his usual trick of providing potted biographies for characters, just enough for us to empathise with them before killing them off. There’ll be rat related deaths aplenty later, but early doors the main causes of death aren’t teeth, it’s heat and the shockwaves burning up bodies and demolishing buildings.

He shifts to a second act focusing on the emotional impact of survival. Those in the shelter may be safe, but they’re still traumatised. Suicide is prevalent, and so is the risk of mutiny. Some don’t see why Dealey should be in charge just because he held a position of minor authority before the world ended.

There’s a grim recon mission to the surface featuring a wince inducing encounter with a rabid dog, but soon the survivors are faced with a triple whammy of threats; insurrection, flooding and rats!

This is a high concept novel. Bringing back the rats after a dull second outing and partnering them up with nuclear war, a subject on everyone’s minds in the 1980s. Herbert is disparaging towards authority in this, and the fate that befalls the main government shelter suitably ironic, yet much like his hero, he can’t quite bring himself to choose a side. Culver’s a standard Herbert stand-in; a loner in jeans and a leather jacket, a reluctant hero. A nonconformist who has little time for Dealey, yet seems equally sniffy about the potential mutineers. Dealey is a two-dimensional civil servant, a man who’s fallen back on bureaucracy because that’s all he has left. Herbert suggests Kate’s a strong female character, but really she’s just a damsel in distress for Culver to rescue and fall in love with. It’s a shame Herbert dispenses with a far more interesting female character early on.

A product of its time, women don’t far well, and whilst nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, persons of colour aren’t portrayed too glowingly either, aside from Jackson, who Herbert feels the need to constantly remind us is black which seems to be his only defining character trait, but he isn’t alone here and many people in the vignettes are more fleshed out that some of the recurring characters!

From a great concept the book goes downhill in the final third There’s the fairly predictable apocalyptic trope of the outlaw gang, and by the time we get to the finale there are just too few characters left to make for a final bloodbath, and it has to be said, there’s only so many rat attacks you can read before they all blur into one, and several of the grim interludes Herbert peppers the book with are a trifle samey. That said some other (non-rat related) interludes are nicely done.

He also annoys me by having characters use automatic weapons that appear to carry a ludicrous number of bullets!

A product of it’s time, this is still a very enjoyable read and definitely one of Hebert’s better books. It’s a trifle long and some of the underground scenes, especially late on, drag, but still a damn fine example of 80s’ post-apocalyptic fiction, and still a heck of a concept.


The Survivor

Posted: October 31, 2014 in Book reviews
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By James Herbert

The historic town of Eton is hit by tragedy when a 747 crashes nearby shortly after take-off. The destruction is near total, with over 300 people killed outright. Only one person walks away from the crash site, with barely a mark on him. He is Dave Keller, the plane’s co-pilot.

An investigation begins into the cause of the crash, but in the days that follow the inhabitants of Eton are beset by tragedy upon tragedy, murder, suicide and insanity stalk the streets. Meanwhile Keller is troubled by the miraculous nature of his survival and driven by an urge to find out what caused the crash. When a spiritualist named Hobbs comes to visit Keller is sceptical, but he quickly comes to realise that the souls of many of the victims are still tied to the vicinity of the crash, confused, angry and dominated by an evil personality they’re eager for blood. They want revenge on the man who caused the crash, and Keller is their chosen instrument of vengeance.

This is my first review of a book I’ve read before, although to be fair it’s been an awful long time since I read The Survivor. Whilst I’ve been a huge fan of James Herbert since my teenage years, there are some books of his that I’ve only read the once (and one book, Fluke, which I’ve never read at all) and The Survivor falls into the category. Reading it again I can kind of see why, as it’s not one of his better books.

In fairness it is only the third book he wrote, and interestingly it’s his first venture in supernatural horror, given that The Rats and The Fog dealt with environmental/scientific horror.

The nature of the threat is different, but the overarching narrative is similar to the two previous books. There is a powerful threat and, in a series of vignettes we meet characters who are then destroyed, or at least badly damaged by that threat in a series of original and violent ways, meanwhile the hero stumbles through the carnage before finding a resolution.

The Survivor doesn’t have the visceral originality of The Rats, nor the crazed violent horror of The Fog, but Herbert does try to balance the gore with a general creepiness for the first time, and whilst not always successful it is possible to see the seeds of later works within this one, in particular Shrine seems to follow a similar path on a more epic scale.

Of course the main thing of note about The Survivor is the twist, which sadly I knew even before the first time I read this because I saw the Robert Powell starring film which obviously gave it away. In fairness it might have been surprising at the time, but certainly modern horror fans will likely see it coming a mile away (in fact maybe even in 1977 people saw it coming a mile away.)

Keller is a fairly bland hero, Herbert had a tendency to leave his leads as blank canvasses for the reader to imprint on, sometimes this worked very well, and sometimes it didn’t. The story has originality going for it, yet still seems fairly thin, and whilst Herbert was always very good as coming up with gruesomely original deaths for his characters there’s little meat beyond this, and the man behind the crash is revealed late on with very little foreshadowing. Given how good Herbert would prove to be at meshing horror with detective/thriller elements it’s a shame that this aspect of the story wasn’t given more weight as it might have improved the book no end.

Not terrible by any means, but Herbert would go on to write much better.

James Herbert

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Regarding writing


Last week the writer James Herbert died at the age of 69. Author of some 23 books, a smattering of short stories, a couple of non-fiction books and a single graphic novel he was, it is fair to say, one of my all-time favourite authors, and a man who was a big influence on me, both as someone who enjoyed his work, and from the perspective of someone who wanted to emulate him.

I guess you know you’re getting old when all your heroes, be they writers, singers or actors, start to die. The death of Elisabeth Sladen (Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith) a couple of years ago was a huge shock, and the death of Herbert, a man whose books I’d been reading since my teenage years, was yet another one.

It’s all the more shocking because I hadn’t even realised he was that old. Of course I must have known, this is a man who wrote a novel set in an alternative version of the late 1940s, a time he remembered. This was a man born in the midst of World War 2.

And yet…

To me he seemed ageless, permanently the thirty something man in the black leather jacket, black of hair and vulpine of features, staring out from the back of a book, or from a magazine article.

He rose to prominence in the 1970s, a new age for horror which saw the rise of Stephen King in the US, and James Herbert in the UK. His first novel was published in 1974, it was, of course, The Rats, and he would return to the tale of killer rodents three more times, in the novels Lair and Domain, and the graphic novel The City.

It’s oddly fitting that as his first novel was the first of a trilogy of books, his last, Ash— published last year in hardback and just out in paperback—was the final part of another trilogy, this one not about evil rats, but about the paranormal investigator David Ash.

I’ve been wracking my brains but I can’t actually recall which one of his novels I read first, and nor can I remember how old I was when I read it, I have a sneaking suspicion it was The Fog (his second book) but the truth of the matter is lost in the mists of time.

What isn’t lost is the fact that I’ve read every single one of his books (ok, apart from Fluke which for some reason I never have) at least once, and in the case of my favourites multiple times.

If I had to pick a favourite it would be Sepulchre (lord knows how many times I’ve read it) which showcased his ability to write a book that worked both as a thriller and as a horror story, with neither element feeling short changed.

My top five would probably go something like this: Sepulchre, Creed, The Dark, Domain, and Haunted. As you can see, if I’m honest I preferred his earlier work. Whether this is because his writing changed, or because my tastes changed, I’m not entirely sure, but even though I didn’t always like his newer work as much, the arrival of a new James Herbert novel was something that always got me excited.

I like to think of myself as a writer, and I’d like to be a properly published novelist someday, and whilst some may dream of untold riches, of JK Rowling levels of success, the plain truth is, for most of the time that I’ve dreamed of being a writer, all I’ve truly wanted to be is James Herbert, and that’s perhaps the best tribute I can pay him.
So farewell James, but this isn’t goodbye, because in some ways you’ll always be that youthful guy in the leather jacket, and when I finish the book I’m currently reading the next thing I pick up will be one of your novels.

And it won’t be the last time I do that either.