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The Rats

Novel by James Herbert (England) 1974.

Though conceived much earlier, the modern horror novel was effectively born in 1974, both here and in the States, with the debut novels of the two most influential genre authors since H P Lovecraft: in America, Stephen King's Carrie; and in England, James Herbert's The Rats. Arguably the most read modern horror novel of all time, surely the most imitated and frequently the first genre book that future fans happen upon (at least in this country), this deserves its reputation as a true classic. This is the book with the nature's revenge formula that launched a thousand rip-offs, which rarely touch this quality.

In the East End of London sightings begin to come in of large rats attacking cats, dogs and children. Harris is a teacher whose class included one of the first casualties of the killer rats, and as an early expert, he finds himself increasingly involved in the fight to combat a menace that is growing and becoming more dangerous all the time, eventually suggesting their final solution.

It's a relatively simple story, but Herbert is a master, one of the best technicians working in the field today. His plots are good, original ideas, well thought out and well executed. His characters are all three dimensional with emotions, believable backgrounds and often deep-seated reader sympathies. And his handling of the inherent features of the modern horror novel are faultless. He also shows other qualities: in The Rats he showcases his ability to depict life in the working class without succumbing to the terminal depression or relentless boredom of the kitchen-sink drama. In the 1990s, after a decade of copycat novels, this sort of thing is far from original, but The Rats is so well written that it seems as fresh now as when Herbert first invented the formula over twenty years ago. Flawless.

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