Book Review: “The Rats” (The Rats Trilogy Book 1) by James Herbert

I am all about horror at the moment!

After finishing Nobody True, my mum recommended I read The Rats, James Herbert’s debut novel. I had a faint memory of my dad saying he’d read it and it had “scared the crap” out of him. And my dad’s a big man who doesn’t scare easily.

I bought The Rats. As you might imagine, it’s about rats. The original cover just screams ’70s, don’t you think?

*Note: this review contains minor spoilers.

rats-new_1

“It 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 realized 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 . . .”

Imagine any horror film. Most likely the opening scene is some unlucky sod getting mauled/attacked/sliced apart as a spooky introduction to the antagonist. The Rats starts out in much the same way, except, unlike a movie, we learned a bit about the character before they met their unfortunate fate.

I actually really liked this. We were given tidbits, a run-through of the person’s life, even if that was the last time we would ever “see” them alive. Some might argue this is pointless – why would you care about their lives, hopes, and past mistakes that led them to their untimely death?

I realized that it’s because of their past lives that they ended up getting killed in such a horrible way. Take Henry, the vagrant at the very beginning of the story. Perhaps if it wasn’t for his office affair that led to defamation, resignation, and eventually crippling loneliness that took him from successful businessman to alcoholic vagabond, he wouldn’t have slept in the abandoned house where the first of the killer rats attacked.

Take Dave, the teenager who was on his way home to catch the last train after messing around with his girlfriend. Maybe if he’d gotten an earlier train, stayed over at her house, or not met up with her that night at all (not necessarily a mistake, but an unfortunate coincidence), he wouldn’t have ventured into the station from which came the inevitable attack.

The mother who left her one-year-old alone to nip next door to borrow some tea (yes, it’s a British book) may not have perished along with her baby if only she’d taken her daughter with her. George the zookeeper ended up getting mauled by one of his beloved animals after he foolishly let it out of its cage instead of saving himself.

Harris is the main character of this story, and I liked him a lot. He’s brave, though he doesn’t try to play the hero; he’s a school teacher, a normal bloke with common sense but who wants to help out the area where he grew up, first in his career and then with the infestation. The rats themselves are really scary; they’re well-described, absolutely vicious, and Herbert did a great job of portraying the situations where you knew that as soon as one rat showed up, you knew the victim would be overwhelmed within moments.

Harris and the police struggle to beat back the terrifying rat infestation. These fearless creatures are getting bolder by the day, and it’s only a matter of time before the whole city is taken down. The amount of action and sense of urgency kept the pages turning.

The Rats was published in 1974, whereas Nobody True was released in 2003. The Rats is not badly written by any means, but I could see how Herbert’s writing style developed from his debut to the later novel, which ran much more smoothly. Writers never cease to improve if they constantly work on their craft, and part of me wishes I’d read The Rats first as, compared to Nobody True, some of the prose was quite clunky. There were also several typos in the Kindle edition, which surprised me.

These didn’t ruin my experience, though, and it shouldn’t deter you from reading it, either. The Rats is a classic novel every horror fan should pick up and I give it four stars out of five. I’ll definitely be buying the next one, Lair.

4stars

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Nobody True” by James Herbert

I enjoy reading now, but I read a lot more as a child. My mother has probably gobbled up even more novels than I have; when I was growing up, she’d have stacks and stacks of books, shelves stuffed of volumes, rooms packed with tomes, tables groaning under paperbacks. Before the days of the Kindle, her collection looked even more impressive.

There was a book I’d read part of when I was a kid, around twelve or thirteen years old. I’d always remembered the story, and when she came to visit I described the plot. Like the genius she is, she rattled off the author’s name at once and we found it: Nobody True! I remembered the cover and also remembered I’d read half of it. I don’t know why I stopped reading; looking back, the theme was probably too mature for me at the time.

There were many things about the book I’d forgotten, but the hook is a winner: what if you astral travelled, gained control of out-of-body experiences, even using this skill to explore the world around you without limits? And what if, one night during a business trip, you came back and you had been killed? Not only murdered, but brutally so: hacked, mutilated, your body completely destroyed?

The hook stayed with me, and it’s for that purpose I sought out the novel again.

4e6612c40a39f602e4dba518684016ee“What happens when you lose your body?

Jim True knows. He has returned from an out-of-body experience to find he has been brutally murdered and his body mutilated. No one can see him, no one can hear him, no one, except his killer, knows he still exists. Freed from his body, True embarks on a quest to find his killer and discover why and how he has managed to survive.

As he closes in on his murderer, True discovers that even the very people he loved and trusted have betrayed him. He meets his killer, a strange and sinister figure who can also leave his body at will.

In James Herbert’s Nobody True, an epic and deadly battle ensues between True and a seemingly unstoppable and hideous serial killer – a man now intent on even more murders, including True’s wife and child.”

Contrary to many of the books I review, this novel is relatively old; Nobody True was published in 2003 by Pan Macmillan. Herbert himself died in 2013, but I enjoyed this book so much I felt compelled to write this review.

Herbert’s writing style is witty, snappy, and engaging, which drew me in from the very first line, although the main character (the book is written in first person) tends to go off on tangents a bit (something the MC, Jim True, acknowledges). There is a lot of speculation on actual astral travelling, and the book is written as though the event actually happened, a trait I love in any genre of book and something that also appears in The Saga of Darren Shan, which is also, interestingly, a horror.

The plot was full of twists and turns, some of which I expected, other ones I didn’t. I found one of the twists at the end was mildly interesting but unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but that didn’t mar my enjoyment; in fact, it made me want to read the book again to look out for clues for said twist.

There were parts of this book that terrified me; at many points I was holding the phone (I was using the Kindle app; it’s costly to send paperbacks to Japan) an inch or so from my face, with what I imagine is a wide-eyed expression when I was reading on the train and whatnot. The only book that has scared me more is Gerald’s Game by Stephen King, though it was close. I think I actually enjoyed Nobody True more as a whole.

There are several people in the story you might consider to be antagonists, though undoubtedly the main one is the serial killer, a monster both inside and out. Suffering a facial deformity from birth, bitterness, jealousy, and insanity have twisted this killer into a merciless, horrifying mess. This serial killer was truly terrifying, described with flair.

As well as an exciting horror story, there was even a nice sentiment or lesson to be learned from the book as a whole. Though it had been a brutal story, it left a pleasant feeling at the end, a message that is relevant to everyone. I’ll let you find that one out for yourself, though.

My only issue with the book is that we don’t find out what happens to one of the characters, and though this can easily be explained away by the book’s message, I was still waiting for an explanation as to what happened to them. Nevertheless, Nobody True was fantastic and I’m really glad I remembered it and sought it out. My mum has introduced me to some great works and I doubt this one will be the last. I give this book five stars!

5stars

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