Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: The Black Horde

Book Review: 'The Black Horde' by Richard Lewis

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Black Horde’ (166 pp., Signet, October 1980) was first published in the UK in 1979 under the title ‘Devil’s Coach Horse’. (The ‘Devil’s Coach Horse’ is a soil-dwelling rove beetle that lives in the UK).

Richard (E.) Lewis has written a large number of novels for the adult and young adult markets. ‘The Black Horde’, along with his other novel ‘The Spiders’ (1987), doesn’t pretend to be anything other than the literary equivalent of the low-budget, ‘monster of the week’ movies that appear on the SyFy Channel.

The plot is simple and direct: John Masters, a British entomologist, discovers a new species of rove beetle, resembling the Devil’s Coach Horse beetle, overseas, and is carrying live specimens back to the UK when his plane crashes in the Alps. With the coming of Spring and the melting of the snow, his corpse is recovered from the mountain top and shipped home. 

It turns out that the enterprising beetles have used Masters' body as an impromptu shelter, and they emerge from the corpse at a British mortuary and escape into the wild. This is in fact a disaster in the making.

For these are not ordinary rove beetles, preying on small insects; instead, these rove beetles prefer the taste of human flesh. And with their sharp mandibles, they can chew their way into exposed skin in a matter of seconds. Once embedded in the internal organs of their victim, the beetles lay eggs, which rapidly hatch into flesh-eating larvae, which in turn mature into pupae, and then adult beetles, completing the cycle.

Young entomologist Paul Adams, a colleague of the departed Masters, finds himself called in as a subject matter expert when the police receive disturbing reports of people being eaten alive by beetles. As Adams and the authorities soon learn, these isolated incidents are the forerunners of much greater horror to come, as the beetle population expands and swarms of hungry insects trespass on the English countryside in a frenzied search for warm, sustaining flesh….

‘The Black Horde’ shows considerable influence from the horror novelist James Herbert, adopting the clipped, declarative prose style favored by that author and the regular inclusion of passages of gore and grue. 

As with many of Herbert’s novels, ‘The Black Horde’ alternates its main narrative with vignettes in which people – most often couples having sex – find themselves at risk of a bloody, painful, terrifying death at the mandibles of the ravenous beetles. 

I can’t recommend ‘The Black Horde’ as a masterful example of the horror genre, but if you are looking for a brief ‘pulp’ read, something on the order of a James Herbert out-take, it fits the bill.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

Haven't read this, but I do so love those Signet "creature" covers of the '80s.