By David Moody (St. Martin’s Press; 2006/09)

The concept of ordinary folks turned into rage-driven killers is one of the more popular themes in modern horror.  David Moody’s HATER is the latest novel to use it, and while I’ve long since had my fill of the likes of James Herbert’s THE FOG, Simon Clark’s BLOOD CRAZY and George Romero’s flick THE CRAZIES (to name but a few run-throughs of this concept), Moody’s novel is absorbing, fast moving and authentically disturbing entertainment that pulls off the unprecedented task of making this hackneyed idea seem fresh.

Londoner Danny McCoyne has problems.  He’s stuck working in the Parking Fines Processing Office, where irate citizens show up to gripe about getting ticketed or having their car wheels clamped.  Danny’s home life isn’t much better: his wife Lizzie is a bit of a shrew and his two kids are brats.  It seems all too easy for a guy to go over the edge in such dire circumstances, especially since an epidemic is sweeping London that turns people into remorseless killers, or Haters.

Examples of the above include a man who senselessly impales an old lady with an umbrella, a teenage girl who beats her best friend to death with a rock, and a doctor who gets carried away during a vasectomy.  This mysterious disease affects its sufferers suddenly and unexpectedly, and appears to strike indiscriminately.

But the Haters don’t seem entirely hateful in their violence; they behave as if they’re the ones being attacked.  Furthermore, in Danny’s view they appear to be in on some secret the rest of us don’t know.  As the government desperately tries to contain the disease more and more people become Haters, and society crumbles.  Danny finds himself in increasingly desperate straights as once simple acts like finding food, looking after his family and even crossing a street become dangerous ordeals.

Thus we have a protagonist that isn’t the expected retired government agent or dogged police investigator, just a normal man on an equal footing with everyone else.  Danny’s life as a working stiff is vividly and arrestingly conveyed, hooking the reader immediately.  These early passages, with their all-too-evident undertones of simmering rage and none-too-quiet desperation, are disarmingly prophetic.  A perverse echo occurs in the final chapters, in which a shocking narrative turnaround takes this dark tale from standard horror novel territory into uncharted, and genuinely subversive, territory.

This novel was the first by David Moody, and initially self-published online.  The screen rights were quickly snapped up by PAN’S LABYRINTH’S Guillermo Del Toro (for a film set to be directed by THE ORPAHANGE’S J.A. Bayona), and in February 2009 HATER was published in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press.  Sounds almost like a fairy tale, yet the novel is so damn good I’m hardly surprised by its good fortune.  My only surprise is that it took so long.