1974 UK hardcover
Since James Herbert's debut horror novel is propelled by the same energy and pacing as a B-movie from the era, I now felt inspired to cast it. It's set mostly in the tower blocks and slums of London, early '70s. I can see the bad hair and enormous sideburns, the plaid slacks, black-framed glasses, ladies in stockings, miniskirts, and bunned-up hair. Harris, the young teacher in charge of a class of hooligans, who finally faces down the hordes of mutant rats, seemed to me Trevor Bannister, from "Are You Being Served?" His girlfriend Judy would no doubt be played by the loverly Jenny Agutter.
The rest of the book's characters are mostly interchangeable; men and women introduced with a lively little backstory, snapshots of post-war British life at various social levels - mostly lower to highlight the fault and ineptitude of government - and then mercilessly cut down by horrid ravenous vermin the size of dogs.
Herbert plunges into his novel without apology or surcease (or, as Stephen King put it in Danse Macabre, he "does not just write, he puts on his combat boots and goes out to assault the reader with horror") and the result is a really enjoyable piece of pulp horror fiction, barely 200 pages long. The various set-pieces of carnage - a primary school, the tube, a movie theater - are well-conceived and executed, filled with as much blood and bits of bodies and grue as he could get away with. The climax is a corker. And it all works. Introducing a new graphic sensibility in horror fiction (and which Herbert continued in his second novel The Fog, which I will be rereading soon), The Rats is a quick and a satisfying read, a slight guilty pleasure and, I'm happy to learn, the first in a horror-fiction trilogy. Cheers, mate!