Yep--The Nest is powerhouse pulp horror, written with enthusiasm and tasteless know-how, a creepy-crawly scarefest that assaults the reader with one revolting sensation after another. If everyday roaches are disgusting, six-inch-long roaches with mandibles of chewing death are immeasurably more disgusting! A swarm of mutated cockroaches have somehow "organized" themselves by some unknowable miracle of evolution into a thinking organism, each individual creature a cell in the larger mass. Get used to that wave of shivers across your neck and shoulders, because this writer doesn't skimp on the gory details (like how the insects eat through the victim's eyes into the brain!). All-out over-the-top '80s schlock-horror doesn't get much better.
Oddly understated New English Library edition
You can learn the set-up by the front and back cover copy, so I won't get into that. Just know there are plenty of characters that Douglas handles well enough so they each have an identity other than just as roach repast, while the setting itself of fictional Yarkie Island off Cape Cod is depicted as if by someone who's actually been to a Cape Cod town and knows a little of its seafaring history, which adds notes of local color. Happily for the reader, he lays out truly suspenseful scenes of terror and unbelievable tragedy with a professional pulp writer's commitment. I don't know if he was literally getting paid a penny a word, but Douglas sure could stretch a dollar:
Dimly, Bo Leslie saw himself in a mad magician's crate, with sharpened swords slashing his viscera. Or, he was a side of beef on a butcher hook, and cleavers were hacking his carcass into small chunks. The man wanted to curse and howl, but there was no sound except hissing air because his throat was gone. It happened so quickly that the man's body was still shuddering with his orgasm when his final breath issued, a crimson foam out of his decapitated torso... The Yarkie cockroaches, in obedience to commands encoded in their preternatural genes, mounted the new food supply Nature had bounteously furnished again...
The Nest is a bit of an overwhelming story, emotionally, despite its ridiculousness. Gregory repeatedly notes the character's states of mind, their anger and despair and grief and sadness and fear, but his attempts at humor fall flat and don't lighten the mood. The constant descriptions of the repulsive roaches wears the reader down too, increasing not just horror but hopelessness, which is almost worse. After one particularly unsettling lecture from scientist Hubbard:
Behind the Douglas pseudonym is Eli Cantor, a man of some erudition--like many pulp writers--so he is easily able to infuse his story with science, history, character detail and motivation, etc. His style is muscular and verbose, which makes The Nest a more effective read than many other pulp-horror paperbacks--because don't get me wrong, this book is definitely pulp, but somehow I can see Mr. Cantor just running hell-for-leather over good taste and restraint with a grin on his face as he pounds out page after page of hellish delight!When the scientist stopped, the room was silent. Elizabeth and all the men were stunned. Peter Hubbard and Wanda Lindstrom had moved them into a world so alien, ogreish, and alarming that they had no way to formulate their reaction. The ghastliness was in the blood, beyond the reach of words or horror or comradely comfort. A strange, raw wind was blowing up from a biological nether world of phantasmagoric claws, fangs, and mindlessness.
Sure, there are mis-steps: for one, the book is about 100 pages too long! Tightening this baby up would have done wonders, made it a lean and mean machine, and I think readers would agree that much of the scientific speeches/lectures should've been whittled down. Asides spent on character development needed more economic skill, while virtually every attempt at humor is leaden, obvious, and painfully cornball. The conversation isn't exactly scintillating, mostly blocky chunks of wooden exposition and exclamation ("Goshdarn critters!"). So with all this excess verbiage, the narrative drags in spots. Maybe Cantor really was being paid a penny a word! I skimmed some sections if I didn't see the words "roach" or "bloodthirsty" or "vomit."The boy dropped his own body over his sister's, trying to shield her. The bloodthirsty insects crawled between them, now tearing and ripping at both juvenile bodies. Kim's silken corn hair was ropy with her blood and her brother's. Their empty-socketed eyes stared at each other face to face as they perished... It was not a field of battle, only a rapine slaughter of innocents, because there had been no way to fight back.
Cantor's only other horror novel, 1981. Woah.
On the plus side: there are just too many amazing passages in The Nest, purple and ripe and rotting even, for me to quote them all!
Having partaken of human meat and drunk human blood, the new cockroach breed was ravenous for more... they could not get enough of the human taste and would seek it endlessly, implacably, and with many more victories... While she could see out of one eye, Deirdre Laidlaw had to live with the inconceivable sight of great cockroaches coating her husband's face, a vicious, quivering crust of filth...
All that and more (even a well-earned sex scene near the end)! Hoo boy. No doubt, I highly recommend The Nest, despite its length, and because of its delirious lapses in taste and good sense, and a climax which, while straining scientific credibility, makes a bizarre kind of sense. With its well-turned out cover art of moody, moonlit menace, The Nest might appear to be another forgettable piece of Zebra flotsam, another derivative vintage animals-attack bit of trash fiction, but I'm here to tell ya: it'll scare the shit outta ya!
Her horror enclosed the whole space of her life; it came to her that there was another meaning to "the fourth dimension." In addition to time and space there was a dimension of terror, a world of its own, for dying in.