Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Crabs on the Rampage

Clickety-click-click! After a brief Australian holiday in Killer Crabs, the giant crustaceans are back to wreak havoc in the UK. But they aren't content with the Welsh coast this time, they're attacking from all sides simultaneously! What's more, a terrible cancer (crab, cancer, get it?) is causing them to drop dead, and in their final moments they are trying to kill as many humans as they can, even if it means following the waterways inland!

The first victim is a determined oologist (and noted pipe-smoker) who spots the giant crabs dismembering and eating a cow on the Wash. You'd think such a spectacle would cause you to run for your life, or at least alert the authorities, but this guy's lust for the rare and elusive bittern egg proves to be his downfall. After this appetiser, the crabs stumble across a beach full of seaside vacationers, and that's when things start to get interesting.

Series regular Grizzly Grisedale calls Professor Cliff Davenport (scientist, hero, lover) back into the fray and, well, I guess you know what to expect by now. Random scenes of crab mayhem interspersed with Davenport and Grisedale wringing their hands. They can't use paraquat this time because the areas are too populated, so they basically have to sit tight, wait for the crabs to die out and hope that nobody is stupid enough to swim around in the water. You may be surprised, but it turns out there are plenty of people who are that stupid.

The crabs work their way from the Wash through the river system and into London, killing dozens, if not hundreds of people on the way. They even take out Westminster Bridge! Guy N. Smith shows his usual skill at introducing and dispatching characters within ten or so pages. While you may not care about them, you at least get to know them a little before they are disemboweled by a pincer and their intestines slurped like spaghetti (a simile which Smith is fond of).

He even manages to work in a character with a ridiculous crab-phobia, caused by a childhood incident involving his father, a chisel and a particularly tenacious crab. This is pretty fucking funny, because he runs around setting crab-traps, calling them "oversized fuck-pigs" and thinking things like "Fuck the Protection of Animals Act of 1911!" before getting snipped.

Davenport posits that the crab's cancerous mutations have been caused by underwater nuclear testing, and that their rampage is their final act of revenge against humankind. Or that they're headed to the secret crab burial ground. Or that they're fleeing from an even more dangerous aquatic mutation. Who knows? Guy N. Smith sure doesn't.

The deaths in this book are even gorier than Killer Crabs, which is really saying something. Pretty much any way you can imagine a giant crab killing someone, it's probably described in detail in this book. Even babies get the sharp end of a crab claw. What's more, the crabs' disease means elaborate descriptions of dripping, cancerous ulcers too! Oh, joy! One sad thing about this book is that Davenport gets so little to do. For most of the book he is just sitting around twiddling his thumbs or examining dead crabs (which never turns up anything interesting). I kind of miss Klin, the grizzled co-hero of Killer Crabs (surely he would have done more than Davenport), so it was nice to see him get a look-in in the epilogue.

This book was a hell of a lot of fun, and if the title Crabs on the Rampage doesn't pique your curiosity just a little bit, then I don't know what to do with you. This is probably my second favourite crabs book (top honours is held by Night of the Crabs, naturally) and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about giant animals running amok.

Additional note: I bought the US version of this book, in which they'd replaced every instance of the word "pound" with "dollar". Did Dell Publishing consider the idea of a foreign currency too perplexing for our American brethren?

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