In the finest tradition of pulp-horror prose comes Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground. With wefts of Masterton, Laymon, early-Herbert et al. this rip-roaring terror-romp starts quickly and picks up speed to deliver a shocking and entertaining read to the genre fan.
Matt and Chloe are a young couple with everything going for them. With both in good jobs, and enjoying a steady and loving relationship, it’s with great excitement they receive news of Chloe’s pregnancy. Matt starts to get a bit worried when his girlfriend’s health takes a quick turn for the worse, a fear heightened as she starts to bulk up despite not eating.
When a call to the local doctor fails to allay his worries he later follows up on his concerns. That’s when he’s told to look around him – specifically to look around at the other women folk in the town of Stony Stratford. There’s something amiss with the female populace, but before there’s time to reflect and react, things take a more dramatic urgency.
Chloe’s started to get seriously huge, and fast. That’s not exactly comforting news though, as she now starts to make her way through most of the meat section of the local supermarket; he finds out that other local women are similarly blighted by this strange health phenomenon. And it’s affecting their partners and families in disturbing ways.
As Chloe begins to undergo a more rapacious change, it’s clear that something dangerous lurks, literally, beneath her skin. A final night in the couple’s home leads to a violent confrontation that sees Chloe admit something’s growing inside her, and it’s not their baby. Matt is ejected from the home by the Chloe-creature, out into a changed world, and one in which he must fight for answers as well as survival.
Breeding Ground is written with in the spirit of the best of parasitic-host-invasion style horror. I kept thinking of Laymon’s Flesh once or twice, but be under no impression that the book isn’t original – and has it’s schlock moments alongside tongue-in-cheek humour, balanced well enough to keep you equally shocked and amused.
Matt’s a sympathetic character for the reader to follow as he makes his way through this dangerous and infested new world. It was looking harrowing enough when the thought of fatherhood loomed – now he has to face an England, and potentially whole planet, flush with bug-like mutant-parasite menace. But so he does, meeting up with a rag-tag bunch of Britain’s most random town-dwellers, to face down the evil around them.
It’s with aplomb that Pinborough plays up the small town British charms nicely, contrasting against the horrific events unwinding around her characters in the first half of the book. It’s not just the multitude of women in her book violated by some alien-style nasty, but the seminal British ‘chocolate-box’ town itself. I kept thinking that this is what might happen should Midsomer Murder meet Aliens or similar; acid drenched doilies ahoy, maybe.
The tale is a claustrophobic one, with focus upon the group’s day-to-day struggles. It’s an effective story-telling method, and concentration upon the internal group dynamics is an effective mirror to the greater unknown-entity-based skulduggery that’s afoot. The good, the bad and the ugly of human nature are on display here, and the machinations that unfold between the humans are as interesting as that the evil lurking around them.
Breeding Ground is a fast-paced shocker of a pulp-horror book. Make no mistakes: Pinborough knows how to keep the horror reader entertained as she draws them into her creepy-crawly, mutant-freak-infested world. It’s hard not to recommend this one, especially with its acerbic-wit and dutiful name-checks to inspirational material, but do make sure you read it with toes tucked firmly under those bed covers.