There was a time was when a book lasted about 200 pages. Kids books were done and dusted in about 100 and only frustrated home counties horse women got to grips with the doorsteps that Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins turned out.
James Herbert's first novel, would more likely be seen as a novella now: Short and sweet it was a punchy, in-your-face book that scared the proverbial out of me for more than one reason.
Herbert is the product of an East London upbringing. Born at the tail end of WW2, he grew up playing on bomb sites and derelict buildings, wasteland left to ruin. It is these locations that inspired The Rats.
The book deals with a growing number of rat attacks in London. That's a bit obvious really. Starting with the deaths of a vagrant and pest exterminator. Soon the capital is overrun with these deadly carriers of a new plague, whose bite means certain death. We are quickly introduced to Harris, a teacher in East London. The book then begins to follow him through the escalating attacks including one that devastates the school he works in.
For me the trouble is he bases that school on the one he used to attend - St. Aloysius in Highgate. The trouble being I went there. His description of the attack in familiar rooms, corridors and playgrounds is to me truly chilling, especially as I first read the book whilst I was still studying there.
There are subsequent sequels which are good, solid tales but for me it is his first, pacy adventure that holds the reader most - not the flabby written-for-a-film-deal turgid dross that he has produced recently (The Secret of Crickley Hall...Jeez).
Read this. It is a horror story without the unnecessary dressing and so much the better for it.