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Novel by James Herbert (England) 1984.

The unthinkable finally happens: someone starts a nuclear war. For the people of London, who have five bombs to cope with, there seems little chance of survival. But the man Steve Culver helps out of the initial blast wave turns out to be Alex Dealey, who works for the government and who knows where they can get into a shelter. Life in the shelter is tough, but when they finally leave to see what is left of the city and its inhabitants, they realise how much tougher it was for everybody else. And on top of nuclear holocaust, near total devastation and a complete breakdown of society, they find that the huge black rats which had terrorised the city years before are back, and aware that the balance of power has shifted to their advantage.

Completing the trilogy preceded by The Rats and Lair was never going to be an easy task, especially when writing immediately after one of his best books, Shrine. But setting his book in the aftermath of a nuclear war gave the author a wide scope for inventiveness. In fact, though this is part of the Rats trilogy, for much of the book Herbert concentrates on the other horrors that his characters have to face, and astutely piles on pressure after pressure yet always leaving a beacon of hope. Only when his cast start getting complacent about their new state of affairs does he bring in the rats to get them moving again. All Herbert's skills are used to their usual great effect here, the only flaw being the surprisingly upbeat ending: after the long sequence in the main government shelter, possibly the finest hundred pages Herbert has ever written, it seems like a bit of a cop-out. The rats victorious at the bridge would have been a wonderfully dark and ironic finale. But that's a very small gripe for a novel of this magnitude. Like the rest of this trilogy and indeed most of Herbert's work, this is an essential part of any true horror library.


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