Folowing on from the huge successes of THE RATS and THE FOG, James Herbert came up with this interesting story of a Boeing 747 crashing near the little college town Of Eton, shortly after its take-off. All passengers are dead, horribly mutilated and burned. All except one, our hero, Keller, who walks away from the crash virtually unharmed. The story follows his efforts to work out what happened on board the plane, why it crashed, and, most importantly, why he was the lone survivor.
As Keller and the airline investigates, a series of bizarre and macabre events occur around the village. A courting couple are menaced by something outside their car. A fisherman is attacked by fetid rotting corpses from the river. A local priest has strange and terrifying visitations in his church. These events and more tell of how there is a shadow and a menace over the town, while Keller and Hobbs, a spiritualist, try to work it all out.
The central premise here is quite intriguing - why Keller survived? - and offers a good hook to get into the story. The writing, as usual, is very descriptive and some scenes and vignettes build up a good atmosphere. It is the ending which marrs the book, and the climactic encounter - though moderately exciting - isn`t a big enough pay-off for the mystery of the build-up. It is annoying also how the main supernatural threat is very barely linked to the conclusion, and instead just seems to disappear, rather than playing a part.
THE SURVIVOR is okay, but is not Herbert`s best work. At its most basic it is a ghost story, a theme that Herbert tackled later on in his career with more style and substance. A slow and slightly baffling film version was made, with Robert Powell in the lead role [famously, Herbert fell asleep when he watched the movie becauase he couldn't understand the story], but you`re better off with the book.