Ape Land by Paul AllenBy Paul Allen (Viking; 1976)

Another enjoyably depraved relic from the anything-goes seventies. The subject is a gorilla hunt in the deep south, where a female primate named Margaret escapes from an enclosure at Apeland, a backwoods zoo run by the deranged taxidermist Walker. The latter, it must be said, is a complete and utter shitbag who when told his children are about to die in a house fire responds “Fuck the lamebrains, they can fend for themselves.

All the human characters in this environ are monstrous in some way, making the hillbillies of DELIVERANCE seem downright refined by comparison. There’s Cornfield, an old woman who wants nothing more than to canoodle with her dead cat, stuffed by Walker; the rotund Miller, who early on bludgeons his wife to death with a ketchup bottle and submerges her corpse in the ocean; and the perverted Eddie, who runs a gang of unruly ditch diggers–and, it’s implied, carries on an incestuous relationship with his teen daughter.

Then here’s also Margaret the gorilla, arguably the most sympathetic character in the book. It’s the gaggle of perverted rednecks in pursuit of Margaret, whose ranks include most of the above-mentioned individuals, who provide the real horror. The book’s biggest problem character-wise is that it becomes increasingly difficult to tell its slimeball protagonists apart, as all are so equally vile. You can rest assured, though, that all are dealt their just rewards in the suitably bloody finale.

Author Paul Allen relates this depraved tale in a leisurely and picturesque fashion appropriate to the depressed sun-baked setting. The hunt that drives the narrative doesn’t even get underway until the halfway point, with the preceding pages devoted to outlining the particulars of the region’s existence with occasionally exasperating exactitude. At least the book is under two hundred pages, and so can’t be accused of overstaying its welcome.