‘Lair’ is the sixth novel by the greatest and most prolific English horror writer of all time, the man needs no introduction so we will jump straight in and look at James Herbert’s sequel to The Rats (1974).
Herbert returns to the world of Rats, big fecking rats with an axe to grind. His first outing of the rodents was in 1974 hit ‘The Rats’. The backdrop was the squalor of London in the 70’s, and what became a breeding ground for the mutant Black Rat. The first episode of this trilogy was horrific in every sense, people were dispatched left and right, quite often in the most graphic of ways – not even babies were spared the rats rage. So, after the bloodlust and horror of ‘The Rats’ I was gripped for a second instalment, bring on the ‘Lair’.
When I picked up the ‘Lair’ I initially was wanting to delve straight back into the carnage that Herbert masterfully crafted in his original. But that wasn’t the case. In the five years between the original and the sequel something strange had occurred. James Herbert showcases that he isn’t just a one trick pony, he now boasts a mastery over both thriller and suspense writing – and this is evident in the first fifty or so pages of the ‘Lair’. The opening of ‘Lair’ is one of the most suspenseful pieces of writing I have read in a long while; it is a fabulous follow up to his debut and has the reader following wherever his words would lead us – some might say like Pied Piper, but be assured these rats bite!
We swap the squalor of London for the more tranquil, easy on the eye setting of Epping Forest (keeping it London – respect), we read in the first several chapters of the book that something is not quite right with the natural order of things within the forest. Things are lurking within the shadows and in the bushes, growing in their confidence, growing in their hunger, but patiently waiting for their moment to strike. I was literally screaming at the book when I was a third of the way in, not because I was annoyed but because I couldn’t handle the tension – and then like an orchestra reaching its crescendo the tension slipped away and the bloodletting commenced, in the brutal fashion Herbert fans love.
‘Lair’ introduces us to Luke Pender, who is our main protagonist. He’s a man hell bent on ridding London and its surrounding suburbs of this ghastly plague of Rats. There is something about him though that is alluring and intriguing; we are in the main talking about huge black rats, carnivorous sons-of-bitches and the whole time I never doubted what I was reading, what Pender was going through, his own struggles, his standpoint, his plight – I thought that if we were to meet in a pub, we’d have a good old natter. He’s also our moral compass of the story, when everyone starts to lose their minds, he’s there to pull us and them back on track. When people want to cover the mess up, or even deny the issue he is there with his placard and pitchfork. He’s also a tough son of a gun and has his fair share of battle scars to prove it!
There are some wonderful set pieces to this sequel, some moments that combine action, suspense and horror (the demise of Jan Wimbush will live long in the memory); but then there are moments of reflection which allow time for character development. I would say ‘Lair’ is a more complete novel than ‘The Rats’ and in my opinion shows how much James Herbert had developed as a writer in the years between writing his sequel (James Herbert release The Fog, The Survivor, Fluke and The Spear).
‘The two men stumbled from the stable yard helmets forgotten fear giving them impetus, the mud making them slip and hold onto each other for support. They rounded the corner and made for the track leading from the house to the car on the other side of the field. As they reach the front of the building Pender now half supporting the injured man, they looked down the gentle slope leading away from the house towards the open fields. And something made Pender pause to take on the peculiar circular tree copse in the middle of the nearest field. The Trees seem to be quivering with a hidden life the branches moving shedding leaves trembling as they shaken by a swirling wind. It seemed to be almost thrumming. A coldness gripped him as he saw the hundreds of black shapes pour from the copse and come streaming up the slope towards them.’
‘Lair’ reads like a cat and mouse (Rat) game but this time it’s the Rats (mouse) chasing the cat (us). If you could compare Rats to Lair it’s a little bit like Alien and Aliens; the first is shocking, horrific and brilliant; the follow up takes it up a notch, the reader (or viewer) knows what they are seeing so this time it’s more character driven and action based. I’d highly recommend you grab yourself a copy and enjoy what is becoming one of my favourite genres; the Creature Feature.
I am looking forward to reading Domain, the final of the trilogy but for now be assured that the rats have found their lair, and their hungry!
Review by Ross Jeffery
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