23 March 2013

Down in the Sewer

James Herbert is the first (and only) author I’ve followed from the beginning of his career till the end. I read The Rats when it was first published in paperback and last year read Ash on my Kindle. I borrowed, bought and read his books in chronological order as they were released throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and into the 21st Century and along the way replaced the early lost, lent or spirited away books with second-hand copies. I once bought a copy of The Survivor at an airport to read on the plane, not the best idea!

I’ve posted a couple of times about my enduring love for horror and I’ve been prompted to post by Stephen King’s and Bram Stoker’s birthdays. This is a first.

James and I drifted apart at some point, he went his ethereal way and I wandered off to 19th Century Russia. I preferred his horror to his spititual terror, and the last of his books that I truly enjoyed was ’48. A ‘what if?’ scenario. London after the Second World War, where Germany had triumphed. There are a number of stories that start from that viewpoint, SS Britain, Fatherland, to name two, but this was a departure for Herbert, a successful one I thought. His later books, based in the spirit world left me cold, and the last one I read, Ash, did and didn’t disappoint. Did, because he couldn’t get to me as he had in the 70s, then again I am nearly forty years older. Didn’t, because it was as if it was a Greatest Hits book, everything was in there: Nazis; ghosts; spiders; rats; and Lady Di.

I’ve read books about packs of dogs, cats, cockroaches, slugs (haven’t eaten salad since), spiders and watched films about piranhas, ants and giant worms and it’s easy to forget that Herbert started this with Rats. His career ran alongside Stephen King’s and although they were indexed together in the horror section in bookshops, they rarely crossed over in their stories. In my periodic clear outs over the years, when the piles of books start to overflow from the shelves to the floor, both King and Herbert survive the cut. I’ve mentioned it before, it does seem odd that Herbert had not been adapted more for television of film, whereas King is writing first draft screenplays. Is it because he’s English? Are his books really unfilmable?

I didn’t know James Herbert any more than I knew Ian Curtis or Peter Osgood, but his death appears to be the end of an era, I read his books in chronological order not as an affectation as I have with Ian Fleming or currently with Anthony Price, but because I read them as they were published. I can’t imagine that happening again in my lifetime.

James Herbert’s age, seen from the boy who first read The Rats, would have been ancient, from my current viewpoint it looks to be just over crest of the next hill, it’s no age.

Goodnight James Herbert.

James Herbert, The Rats, The Fog, Ash

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