By Guy N. Smith (New English Library; 1976)
I can’t imagine how anyone could not get a kick out of this novel’s premise of giant flesh-eating crabs rampaging through a British seaside community. Billed as a “seafood cocktail for the strongest stomachs,” it was one of the premiere British “Nasties” to appear in the 1970s (others include James Herbert’s RATS novels) and the book that allowed Guy N. Smith to quit his day job to become a full-time purveyor of enjoyable trash like THE SUCKING PIT, THE ACCURSED and quite a few sequels to the present book.
The idea of sequels to NIGHT OF THE CRABS makes sense, as it feels like a warm-up. The by-the-numbers narrative is stripped down to its absolute basics with few surprises, at least for anyone familiar with 1950s-era B-movies.
It features a botanist investigating the disappearance of his nephew and the latter’s girlfriend on the appropriately monikered Shell Island. The botanist finds weird markings on the beach that appear to be made by cow-sized crabs (while along the way he naturally takes time out to have sex on the very beach the crabs have marked!).
There are indeed cattle-sized crabs afoot, hundreds in number, that emerge each night from an underwater cavern. There’s a military base nearby, but it does little to staunch the crabs, seeing as how they have apparently bullet-proof shells.
No explanation is given for the crabs’ existence, nor any reason for their actions (those things were apparently filled out in a subsequent book, THE ORIGIN OF THE CRABS). All we really learn about the things is that they’re extremely tenacious, overturning tanks and derailing trains(!) in addition to much assorted flesh-tearing and limb-ripping. As one character informs his fellows: “They will breed if they are not destroyed. Not only this country but the whole world would be in peril then!” Eventually, though, the humans get the jump on the creatures in the tacked-on finale, with its concluding line “The secrets of the deep are better left undisturbed.”
The novel’s virtues are in its fast moving story and easy to read prose (this doesn’t mean the writing is especially good, mind you!). But as a gorefest the book is a disappointment, and as a monster mash only marginally satisfying. I can only hope those problems are ironed out in the subsequent CRABS novels, as I like my trashy fiction heavy on the trash, dammit!