The Rats – James Herbert

397867It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realised by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted . . .

For some reason I’m oddly drawn to animal stories when it comes to the horror genre, I reviewed Guy N. Smith’s Crabs (as big as sheep) series elsewhere on the site and now its vicious rats (as big as dogs).

Whereas Smith’s books have a tongue in cheek feel about them, the same cannot be said for this gruesome which takes itself far too seriously and as such fails as, paradoxically for that reason it can’t be taken seriously at all,

The idea of big rats is horrible, malevolent predators fighting back is an instinctual evolutionary fear, bringers of the appallingly devastating Black Death in a different age and now themselves doing the killing. It does play on that fear fairly effectively up to a certain point but the book is not strong enough to sustain any real horror as the genre has moved on and become more sophisticated.

Being Herbert’s debut novel, it can perhaps be forgiven for lacking in quality and depth somewhat, my overall feeling is that it is a fair effort and one that fans of the genre may appreciate but for the casual reader there isn’t much else here to grab you  If you are looking for a quick gore fest and little depth then this one may be right up your rat infested alley though.

Liberally scattered through the book are plenty of examples of outdated sexism and casual racism, which can be overlooked because of the time it was written in but it does jar these days with its outdated views and poorly phrased language.  It doesn’t help that the characters are cardboard so one can’t even find out their world views  as most are frequently created simply in order to be killed off.  It does make the set pieces very predictable but if you have picked this book up, then it will probably be for the rodent based carnage so this really can’t be seen as a minus.

It has all you would expect from a  cheap, trashy pulp horror; sex, gratuitous violence and plenty of unintentional comedy, it’s B-lit and if you are in the mood you may enjoy it but it really didn’t grab me like those crabs did.  Partly it’s down to the tone of the book which lacks any bite in the modern era and feels very overly dramatised but mostly it’s just the lack of any interesting subtext to distract from the overall unwitting cheesiness of the whole thing.

I did enjoy the grim 70’s East End (of London) setting, the atmosphere of decay and deprivation goes in its favour, as does the body count which is high and the deaths are mostly well signposted so although it lacks for the most part in dramatic tension, the amount of action and slaughter make up for it.  It rushes along at a fine pace but ultimately it just isn’t that good, unless you have a spare few hours and fancy a non taxing book then it really isn’t worth the look.

43 Replies to “The Rats – James Herbert”

      1. I’ve found it, I’ll read it on one of those days when “I’m too tired to read but want to read anyway” because you’ve made it clear there is no brain power required for this one 😉 I shall let you know what I thought 🙂

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  1. A very honest review, Steve. I’ll pass. Besides not being a genre that I read, the idea of large rats taking over would give me nightmares for months.

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    1. It really didn’t make an impression on me, I wanted to enjoy it but alas, you can’t win ’em all! Normally when people pass up books I tend to fight the urge to write a massive essay about why it’s good, this time you can have a thumbs up.

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      1. Thank you for that. LOL. Steve, even when my children were young and wanted to watch children’s movies, I honestly hid behind a pillow. If it is even a little spooky, I pass.

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  2. What on earth drew you to read this? I remember these books all over the book shops when I was a teenager with their Stephen KIng-esque covers and brick-like contents. I think I may have even read this one once myself but mercifully my subconscious mind has blotted out the experience!

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    1. It seemed like a fun idea at the time, I wanted something fun and light after The Children’s Book, it was short which went in its favour. I will be more select about my horror books in future though. I doubt I will ever forget the book, it serves as my reverence point for avoiding books.

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  3. Sounds like a case for Teenage Ninja Turtles. I usually pass on horror, crime, whodunnits, thrillers, Gothics, historical novels, YA, nearly all genres, and all those “easy reads” that get up my nose. Of course, I don’t read much.

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    1. These rats don’t have a hankering for pizza sadly and none of them talks with Corey Feldman’s voice either. Horror is an interesting genre as it is so subjective but a more psychological aspect is always preferred by this ‘ere reader.

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    1. I prefer rats to spiders, the way they move is just unnatural and a bit chilling I think. At least the title was blatant enough that you wouldn’t have been fooled into picking this up and only then realising your hard earned pennies had gone on something you found horrible.

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    1. It is by the numbers, I did find myself underwhelmed by the ending too so you are spot on by saying just like a Hollywood thriller!

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    1. These crabs destroy tanks! Although they could be a god source of food where it is needed. For some reason I got thinking crabs as big as sheep (or horses for the leaders!) were real then.

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    1. Perhaps then the ultimate horror for you, it would certainly prove more effective on you and only takes a few hours to read as well. Thrillers or horrors don’t come much cheaper than this.

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  4. Thanks for the warning. The horror books really haven’t been my thing since I was very young anyway, but if you had found a real gem of the type, I might’ve been tempted to try it. As it is, I think I’ll probably heed your words and steer clear.

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    1. I was in a forgiving mood as well when I came to start this one, believe it or not. I will continue to dabble in horror but I rarely find one that affecting, I think I blame the many Asian films I watch around my mate Tom’s house. That may possibly be a blog post one day.

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  5. I read tons of Herbert when I was a teenager. Then I moved on to King. Then I moved on from horror. I wasn’t sure, and I’m still not sure, what anyone’s supposed to take away from these books beyond reeling back from them. I still recall to this day a particularly harrowing and chaotic scene in The Dark. But it leaves me shrugging. I think your appraisal is accurate. I also recall that the male hero always ended up in bed with a female heroine no matter how horrific and desperate the circumstances. Even back then I used to wonder how they could have any erotic urges in them.

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    1. Yes forget the carnage that may explode at any minute because a quick sex scene is always important. Perhaps it is a case of know your reader but that reader must like cringeworthy scenes of intimacy, each to their own I guess. I do enjoy a good King book, mainly because of the way he character builds and that a lot of them are mentioned in his Dark Tower series which had a good start and then went downhill after book three. I do like to dabble with horror but couldn’t have it as my genre of choice, not with so many riches on the adjoining sections in book shops.

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    1. I love a good pun, almost as much as I do reading, yet try as I may after six minutes staring at this screen I can’t come up with one that will amuse you.

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    1. Those crabs are genius on account of being hilariously bad, which reminds me I still needs to find Crabs on the Rampage and Killer Crabs, to complete the set.

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  6. I’ve read this one – I love a good old-fashioned horror, but I like my horror with decent characters as well as a decent story – as you say this one was of its time!

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