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JAMES HERBERT THE RATS TRILOGY Hodder & Stoughton THE RATS 1974 LAIR 1979 DOMAIN 1984 THE CITY (Graphic Novella) 1993

 

††††††††††† Three excellent horror novels and a graphic comic final chapter piece all presented in the John Wyndham tradition. The plot of the first book, called simply THE RATSis deceptively simple. Modern day London is infested with a plague of poisonous killer rats, and people struggle to survive. Even a single bite will kill, with a terrible agonising jaundice that will stretch and tear human flesh. For most however, the rats attack in hordes, leaving little chance for escape. There are probably more deaths per page in early Herbert novels than anywhere else. The plot structure has a chapter in which Herbert presents a character or group of people dying in a well-presented bloodbath. One chapter caused some controversy for its graphic depiction of the death of a baby in its pram. Even Herbert would later come to feel that he had gone too far with this image. With chapters that carry the plot forward in between these. In these chapters, events are witnessed by a mild mannered schoolteacher, who after a few near escapes of his own, eventually stumbles into the nesting site of the albino rats that that have sparked off the plague. With their destruction, the rats leave London for the countryside. The second book, LAIR, takes up the story from there, as the hero tries desperately to find the lair of the parent rats before they can build up numbers for another strike on the Capital. He fails and the final image is the rats moving en-mass back to London. Book three is the most surprising, in that London is hit by a full-scale nuclear attack at the beginning. The survivors of this now have to contend not only with the very graphically described horrors of a nuclear holocaust, such as the radioactive zombiefied wretches running around, but also the swarms of rats, who thrive openly in the devastated landscape. The startling images govern this powerful anti-nuclear piece. A hero, (not the teacher from the first two books, who isnít in this one) seeing the hills around London that have been invisible since Roman times due to the high buildings of the capital. Secondly, as the evacuees are rescued by helicopter from a city now owned by the rats, there is speculation on how human they look. Someone even considers that people evolved from rats in all their savagery rather than from apes as Darwin supposed.A few years after DOMAIN went to press, a graphic novel appeared in Herbertís name giving an additional chapter from the story. A lonely figure, who might be the teacher coming home,  moves through the devastated streets of London, fighting Rats and crazed survivors. He is looking for his lover. He finds a woman with a child in swaddling clothes, but as the infant becomes more visible, it is an albino rat that is being nurtured, not a baby. This is a powerful and gripping set of horror stories. Murderous animal tales have been around since man learned to write of course, but Herbert started a whole horror sub-genre with The Rats. Many other authors such as Guy N Smith and Shaun Hutson have tried to emulate Herbertís success.We have since seen killer crabs, cockroaches, spiders, bees, and all manner of critter due to Herbertís work. Even his own works had to become more mature andinvolve less slaughter to avoid becoming lost in the mass of such literature, and few authors could match his distinctive style. http://www.james-herbert.co.uk/rats.htm

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