There’s no shortage of stories where the population goes mad in one way or another, although to be fair, I’m reminiscing mainly about movies. George A. Romero’s The Crazies is the earliest one I remember, although you could argue that Night of the Living Dead and its many imitators is essentially the same idea, even if the antagonists do lumber about like arthritic pensioners. Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are also variations on the core theme, which is: everyone has changed; everyone is a threat; it’s survival of the few against against an uncountable enemy. And this happens to be one of my favourite themes.
Closest of all to Simon Clark’s Blood Crazy are the recent films 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. But where those two movies are essentially common tales of infection by bite, Clark injects a fascinating twist into the mix. We’re not dealing with a contagion at all. Whatever it is that’s making people go crazy, it’s only affecting those above ninteen years of age. All young people are safe. Safe from infection, that is. Not safe from their own parents. When the mysterious event happens, the first thing on the minds of every adult is to slaughter their own children and then move swiftly on to others’ kids.
What makes this idea especially interesting is not that it revolves around the taboo topic of violence against children, but that it presents an unusual and original survival scenario. Essentially, the young have no one to turn to for help but each other. Nor have they anyone hold them back from doing whatever they want to do. You are faced with the dual problem of not having the knowledge you need to survive, nor the discipline to behave sensibly. While many young people are a credit to their generation, there are always the few who despise authority and crave violence. And so, while the adults baying for blood, the young are indulging in sex, booze, power and cruelty. This is essentially Dawn of the Dead meets Lord of the Flies. And it makes for a high-octane page-turner of a novel.
In the past, I’ve criticised so-called horror masters James Herbert, Shaun Hutson and Richard Laymon. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone too far. Then I read a book like Blood Crazy and I realise I was right all along. Because now I’m reading the real deal. The story is constantly moving forward and taking the reader to somewhere new and exciting. Clark has a really snappy style that I love; I was in awe of his ability to describe events so perfectly with so few words.
I do have a couple of criticisms of the novel. The hero, Nick Aten, gets the girl at every turn. Wherever he winds up in the story, there always seems to be a pretty stranger who’s horny for him. It’s a bit unbelievable and it also conveyed some pretty poor ethics about promiscuity. Secondly, all the mystery about why the adults went insane is crushed in a single chapter where a stranger has conveniently worked everything out off-stage. And it’s not a very good explanation, at that: essentially a concoction of athiesm and new-age-sounding psychology that had the effect of alienating me as a reader with Christian convictions. Romero was onto something when he never offered a concrete explanation, in any of his films, for why the dead came back to life. Unless a writer has an imagination of astounding proportions, chances are that any explanation for something so bizarre as the dead coming back to life, or the adult population going crazy, is going to be less than inspiring.
Still, the novel survives me giving it a thumbs down on the grounds that for the majority of its pages it was a hell of a good read.