Gory, gruesome, lurid, classic pulp horror. Engaging characters and an ever-present threat make for a tense and exciting book. For horror fans this is a huge amount of fun.
All of the links you need to buy either direct or from your retailer of choice can be found on the Paperbacks From Hell page at Valancourt.
Paperbacks from Hell is a fantastic concept, a series of re-issues inspired by the book of the same name by Grady Hendrix and Will Erickson, drawing on classic 70s and 80s pulp horror. A series of five are planned of which The Nest is the first. Before I talk about the story itself though, take a proper look at that cover. Its glorious. Moody, dark, evocative, a great painting that teases the horrors that await within its pages. Sadly, the identity of the artist is lost to time, according to the notes on the copyright page. The format of the book is important too, its printed in the American Mass Market size giving a further air of authenticity to the recreation of a book from an era of classic pulp fiction. This is a little detail, but I also really like that Valancourt have gone so far as to include a paper order form in the back of the book in the classic style I remember fondly from old paperbacks I used to borrow from the library growing up in the 90s, the attention and love that has been lavished on this book is clear to see.
As Will Erickson references in his new introduction, a lot of pulp horror was of a decidedly varying quality. For the Paperbacks from Hell series, only the very best have been chosen. I am not familiar with any of the titles in the series, but on the evidence of The Nest, the curation of books to be included has really focused on the quality of the story and writing. Balanced off with awesome artwork of course. Gregory A Douglas was a pseudonym for novelist Eli Cantor, Cantor had been writing fiction for at least forty years before The Nest was published and that experience shines through.
The Nest tells the story of a small island off Cape Cod called Yarkie and its infestation by mutant cockroaches. These roaches have developed a taste for flesh and blood and the size and strength to overwhelm and kill in lurid, gory, bloody style. They strip the flesh off their victims, devouring their organs and bones as they go, entering the body through any orifice that is open to them and consuming from the inside out whilst a victim is still alive. In case its not entirely clear at this stage, this book is most definitely not for the squeamish. It a glorious out and out horror story, know that before going in.
Graphic horror kicks in almost immediately, but sits alongside character’s that are only just starting to realise that something isn’t quite right on the island. Creating a wonderful sense of unease and foreboding, building tension from early on. You know in your own mind as you read that events are going to escalate and get far worse before they get better, what you don’t know is how bad its going to get and Douglas plays on that in the early chapters. What really makes this a strong novel though, isn’t the roaches and the wonderfully graphic descriptions of their attacks, it’s the character’s that Douglas has placed on the island and the relationships he establishes between them. Yarkie is described as a close-knit community where everybody knows each other and looks out for each other. In establishing this early on and in building a cast of characters, we not only have people whose motivations to do something other than get the hell out are well established and convincing, we have people we care about. People who we don’t want to see eaten alive by mutant roaches. The tension between Elizabeth Carr, granddaughter of a Yarkie resident, and Peter Hubbard the Harvard scientist who comes to the island to investigate the infestation, provides a thread through the story and a developing relationship that you get invested in. When you add the clear danger they are in to that situation, you are left with a tense and exciting story that really motors along.
The Nest is a thrilling example of the world of pulp horror, gory, scary, tense and crucially exciting from start to finish. Grabs you from the opening and doesn’t let go to the final page. As a horror fan, I had a great deal of fun with this story and I can’t wait to get my hands on the remaining four books as they unleashed over the course of the summer. If this opening selection is anything to go by the remaining novels are set to be highlights of my reading year.