In retrospect, some things really aren’t a good idea. Kanji-based tattoos you don’t know the true meaning behind, blind-dates setup by dubious acquaintances, and most of the 1980s from a fashion perspective. Night of the Crabs, by Guy N. Smith might at first glance seem like such a thing.
With its garish title, this pulp paperback from the 1970s might appear as a b-movie throw-back and adaptation. The picture of a giant crustacean threateningly waving claws in the air, mandibles dripping blood as it stares with its beady black eyes certainly doesn’t help things. Yet, it belies the classic piece of pulp-horror history that lies beyond.
Professor Cliff Davenport is on the search for answers relating to the mysterious disappearance, and presumed deaths, of his nephew Ian Wright and Ian’s girlfriend Julie Coles. The couple were holidaying in a seaside resort in Wales when something – revealed only to us dear reader – dispatched them into the deep blue yonder.
The beeches belie a dangerous quarry. Tracks of sheep-sized crab prints, and shed uber-exoskeletons too support this theory. With a local military presence protective (supposedly) of something or other, Cliff has to tread lightly: early on he’s arrested and dragged into a cell in some secret airbase.
This story of titanic mutant arthropods is a worthy read for any pulp-horror aficionado, and especially those that are fans of similar monster-feature-style books. This one itself brands boldly upon its cover ‘In the traditions of The Rats‘, and it’s not off. Fans of that outing from James Herbert won’t be too disappointed here, likewise too those devotees of Masterton’s Slugs and its sequel.
That said – it’s not for everyone, and does buckle a bit under the old binoculars of time. Whilst it brings no serious complaints from myself, and is mildly enjoyable, this is a short, distilled pulp-experience. I know it’s not Bleak House, but I think Smith could at times have given his characters a bit more development.
When whisky-fiend Colonel Goode appears, for example, having been summoned expediently from London by the professor, there’s something of the abrasive about Cliff’s character. Given the need to haste you’d think Cliff would be a bit more tolerant toward him. I know we leave our disbelief along with our shoes on the welcome mat with many horror books, but a little bit more common sense wouldn’t have gone a miss.
Crabs, as the monster-type, were a great idea though. Let’s be honest – they’re creepy enough lurking in shallow pools on holidays as youth, and then staring at you with their beady black eyes, almost on stalks, reading to give you a good nip. Super-size them, throw them in nice island setting and give them a taste for human flesh akin to some pre-19th century Papua New Guinean cannibalistic tribe, and you’re onto a winner in most respects.
However you look at it, this is a slim-slice of paperback horror history. Literally, in that respect; at 144 pages my copy was certainly over in a couple of hours. Guy N. Smith is one of horror fiction’s stalwarts – make no mistake. If you have even a passing interest in the genre you should check out his work, possibly even start with this one, with a caveat that it’s not fully reflective of its author’s other, stronger endeavours.