Saturday, 19 April 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - The Origin of the Crabs

It would be hard to the top the massive levels of crustacean carnage in Crabs on the Rampage, so for the fourth book in his epic crab-thology, Guy N. Smith wisely decides to scale down the mayhem and focus on the inhabitants of a small Scottish village.

As it's title suggests, The Origin of the Crabs is a prequel to the other books. You might also (quite reasonably) expect the book to reveal the origin of the crabs. Aside from a brief reference to Russian nuclear testing, it is not discussed at all. Now, I don't really care about the origin of the crabs, but if that's the name of the book you should at least throw us a bone.

Bruce McKechnie has been the laird of Cranlarich estate ever since he murdered his brother for the inheritance. Since then, he has used the grounds to provide hunting and fieldsports for wealthy out-of-towners, much to the consternation of the locals. After a poacher on his grounds has an encounter with a giant crab, McKechnie quickly realises that such news would have a detrimental effect on his business, and he'll do anything to keep the crabs a secret. By which I mean murder.

Since it's a prequel, eponymous hero Cliff Davenport is nowhere to be seen. In his place is the standard Smith hero, the relative-who-is-determined-to-get-to-the-bottom-of-things, John Ryland, who shows up when his brother goes missing in the loch. Christine Blacklaw, resident nymphomaniac, pounces on him immediately. Like most Smith heroines, she keeps herself confined to the background at all times, shouting "No, it's too dangerous!" when appropriate and providing a sex scene when it's time for a break from the gore.

While John Ryland is thoroughly dull, the villain Bruce McKechnie is more interesting, if only for his single-minded determination to keep the crabs a secret no matter how many people get eaten. Luckily for him, the crabs tend to be conveniently shy when the authorities are around. His methods to try to get rid of the crabs become increasingly desperate. It culminates in an attempt to poison the crabs with a drum of powdered cyanide. What's he going to do, spoonfeed it to every one of them? A prominently featured bog provides a prime method of crab extermination, but goes completely unnoticed by everyone until it's way too late.

The book ends bizarrely and abruptly, as if Smith was sitting back examining his finished manuscript (smoking a pipe, naturally) and suddenly thought "Oh shit, it's supposed to be a prequel!" and quickly hammered out an alternate ending that would tie up with the other books. In fact, much of the book has prequel-syndrome, where scenes that should end up in a violent bloodbath (eg a diving team searching the loch in a bathysphere while surrounded by hundreds of onlookers) fizzle out because they are weighed down with continuity.

The plot is weak, and the protagonists demonstrate remarkable lapses of intelligence, such as splitting up in a pea-soup mist populated by giant crabs. However, like Carnivore, the book's focus on gamekeeping and hunting works to Smith's strengths, and he paints a convincing picture of the estate and it's grounds. Highlights include an attempt by the burly gamekeeper, Joe Kinlet, to engage the giant crabs in fisticuffs (spoiler: it doesn't work). Gore levels are high, but do not approach the giddy excess of Crabs on the Rampage.

Like the last book, I picked up the US version and the tagline states "They took England scream by chilling scream. Now they're here!" I was excited to imagine the crabs wreaking havoc across the pond, but the book is clearly set in Scotland. Honestly Dell publishing, between this and the currency issues of the last book, what are you trying to pull?

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