Eat Them AliveBy Pierce Nace (Manor Books; 1977)

Who the hell is Pierce Nace? Based on the appropriately titled EAT THEM ALIVE, Nace’s only book, this author is evidently a demented fuck with a penchant for over-the-top gore and misogynistic sleaze.

Those factors were part and parcel of the “Nasties” of the seventies, written by the likes of James Herbert and Guy N. Smith. Such novels more often than not featured mutant insects, which this one does, and oodles of exploitative violence, of which this one contains more than its share. There are, however, several breaks with the formula.

EAT THEM ALIVE takes place on the expected deserted tropical island, where a disgruntled misanthrope named Dyke(!) is longing to track down the gang of punks who castrated and left him for dead years earlier. Thus, for once the antagonist isn’t a mad scientist bent on world domination but a severely maimed punk whose destiny just happens to fall into his lap one day, in the guise of a bevy of giant preying mantises released from the bowels of the Earth by a catastrophic earthquake.

Dyke uses this development to his advantage by entrapping the biggest of the mantises, a creature he monikers Slayer. Dyke gradually gets the thing to follow his lead by boating in hundreds of natives from the surrounding islands for Slayer to much on. From there Dyke corrals several more of the monsters, assembling a veritable mantis army to off the four men responsible for his present condition–who, it transpires, all conveniently live nearby!

This book further diverges from the norm in its insanely overwrought descriptions of bloodletting and evisceration. This was a full decade before the bow of the splatterpunks, yet EAT THEM ALIVE outdoes most all of them in sheer excess. Each chapter contains some new jaw-dropping outrage, such as Slayer’s lovingly described mid-book dismemberment of a woman, which lasts a full three pages. Or when Slayer takes to lopping off and scarfing down ladies’ breasts, apparently the most appetizing part of the human anatomy. Or when Dyke enthusiastically chops up the body of one of his enemies and drinks the blood before offering the morsels to his mantis companion.

The entire book, keep in mind, is told from Dyke’s point of view, without the expected kind-hearted middle class hero who usually headlines novels like this one. This makes for a less-than-comforting read, but then I strongly doubt anyone would pick up a book like this one expecting reassurance.

Good writing is something else you really shouldn’t expect. Pierce Nace’s prose is crude and often repetitive (to the point that I frequently wondered if I was rereading portions of the book I’d already covered), but delivers where it counts. Any book about giant preying mantises has its own irrefutable set of requirements, and it’s safe to say that this one, while not exactly artful, fulfills them all several times over.