"Spiders" was one of a whole bunch of nature-goes-berserk apocalyptic thrillers to come out during the mid- to late seventies, and it did well enough, along with the popularity of Aliens movies, of which the creatures here kinda, sorta resembles, so that suspense writer Alan Radnor (as Richard Lewis) would a couple of years later (four years later in "The Web") write this sequel. Unlike Spiders and Devil's Coach Horse (a. k. a.: "The Black Terror" here in the states) this book never saw an American reprinting. Too bad.
Like all of Lewis's books "The Web" starts off with a bloody death. In this case it's the alcoholic and homeless ex-vet Angus McInnes who has drunk himself into a wandering hell of abuse and pain. Unfortunately, his real pain is about to begin as he camps out in the abandoned and crumbling ruins of an old building only to find that it is already inhabited. He is cocooned by the surviving man-eating spiders from the first novel, who have breed and who have now rebuilt their numbers, with variations, there are at least three separate types of spiders running amok now, in scattered locations across England. This time there is a spider that can turn animals into mindless killing machines, presaging 28 Days Later (Widescreen Edition) by well over a decade and half. Mad cow disease indeed!
While the hero of "Spiders", Alan Mason, makes his appearance in this novel, it's not until we are past the hundred page mark that we see him. This time, the hero of the novel is John Lever, a reporter on his way up, even though his marriage is on the way down. Like a British Karl Kolchak, he stumbles onto several victims of the spiders, although he doesn't recognize the signs at first. Meanwhile his friend and policeman Detective-Inspector Graham Murray is carrying on his own parallel investigation, and eventually both will combine the others into their own to help save the world.
Lewis takes his time this time around as he introduces us to a slightly larger cast in this novel than he usually does. Some of the characters taking up several chapters before their nasty demise, and not all of the characters that are introduced die either, as this time Lewis introduces more suspense to his novel as he is getting much better at what he is doing. Lewis again shows he has a newsman's eye for creating minor characters as he is a master at filling his novels with micro-character vignettes, and as here he gives himself a little room to develop his characters even more than he usually does, with some of them taking up several chapters with their doomed stories. Stand outs were Jack Dawson, a man who has worked his way up from stableboy to the point where he is about to buy the (horse) farm, only to see his entire future destroyed. I was especially taken with Kerry Rhineshaw, an old school farmer, who is the person that originally informs John about the mysterious happenings that are occurring on the nearby farms, and who very much reminded me of my grandfather, who was also a no-nonsense old school farmer.
Like all of Lewis's novels the deaths are nasty, the pacing brisk, the danger portrayed in an intense manner, and like all of his novels, the second half is taken up with the British government going into a full-bore panic. This is because British civilization as we (or they) know it is on the verge of collapsing. There will be a miracle cure for the spider problem, but, once again Lewis leaves himself open for a sequel, and I wish that this had gone the way of James Herbert's "Rats" trilogy or Guy N. Smith's crab books and would have been turned into a series, or at least a trilogy.
Despite a few flaws, this novel is stuck with one god-awful cover, a mere picture of a spider in a spiderweb, and having a horse vomit (horses can't do this) this novel gets all the stars. Maybe some enterprising small-press will bring these little seen, now forgotten novels, "Spiders" and "The Web", back in print in one omnibus volume.
I have also reviewed the following Richard Lewis novels for this site:
Devil's Coach Horse