Book name: The Rats
Author: James Herbert
Publisher: New English Library
Format: Print, audiobook, ebook
Publication Date: 1974
Star Rating: 5/5
I’ve always felt a strong affinity for ‘The Rats’ trilogy by James Herbert. My family lived in the East End of London, where The Rats is set.
After that we lived in Essex, where the sequel to The Rats takes place.
One way or another, it just felt as if I was looking over my shoulders for a giant man-eating rat all the time.
James Herbert was an incredibly popular chiller horror writer in the Seventies and Eighties. There was something quintessentially English about his stories, and his books have sold over 54 million copies worldwide.
Harris is an art teacher in the East End. He’s pretty jaded at work, but at least a happy relationship with Judy gives him optimism for the future. Then one of his pupils, Keogh, turns up at school with a rat bite.
The next day, Keogh is dead and the authorities are struggling with reports of other attacks on people by rats in this part of the city.
The rat attacks are particularly bloodthirsty. A group of rough sleepers is torn to shreds, including Mary Kelly, who is an alcoholic.
Paula Blakely is at home enjoying time with baby Karen and their new dog when rats emerge from the cellar to kill the dog and the baby. Paula later dies in hospital.
All over the East End, enormous rats with a taste for human flesh are hunting as packs. They attack passengers and staff at Tube stations and on trains, they round on the pest-control experts sent to exterminate them and finally they kill the caretaker at Harris’s school making teachers and students take refuge in one of the classrooms.
The rats in James Herbert’s story pose a threat to people in multiple ways. They are the size of dogs. They have massive claws and razor-sharp teeth.
They are incredibly aggressive. They love the taste of human flesh. They also appear to have some sort of telepathic ability to communicate with each other.
Worst of all, the rats carry an enhanced variant of Weil’s Disease. Everyone they bite or scratch dies within 24 hours.
The authorities are at a loss as to how to respond and deaths mount. Many people are evacuated, in echoes of London’s recent wartime past. People are too frightened to go out at night, cellars and basements are off limits, and no one wants to work anywhere around fresh meat.
I can’t say I blame them for this response under the circumstances.
I loved The Rats. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, although Harris is the only one who lasts. In his signature style, James Herbert shows us a series of cameos, provides enough of a glimpse into their thoughts and fears to make them human and then…has the rats kill them off just before we start to care about them.
The plot was very well paced and, although humanity is able to fight back, there’s enough of a continuing threat left to act as springboard to the sequels.
The Rats is one of my very favourite James Herbert books.
Thank you for reading my review.
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