When it comes to the work of Guy N. Smith, 'Night of the Crabs' is the big one and its importance to his career and his life cannot be underestimated.
It's his one bestseller, published in July 1976 with reprints in August and November of that year, two more in 1977 and another pair by 1980. It has currently seen publication in four countries and three languages and it's racked up six sequel novels, one prequel, a graphic novel, a couple of chapbooks and a collection of short stories. The most recent sequel, 'The Charnel Caves' was published as recently in 2019.
It's also the book that allowed him to give up the banking job he hated and become a full time writer, able to haggle for better pay from the notoriously stingy New English Library and to concentrate on regular novels for adults rather than the hodgepodge of titles he'd been churning out over the prior year.
This came fewer than two years after his debut, 'Werewolf by Moonlight', but it was incredibly his fifteenth title, 1975 alone seeing one horror novel ('The Sucking Pit'), the last six of his seven porn digests and the first three of his four adaptations of Disney movies for children. Only Guy could release 'Sexy Confessions of a Games Mistress' and 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in the very same month.
Part of the reason for its success was because it's a quintessential monster movie book, more of a traditional horror novel than 'The Slime Beast', though it shares a complete lack of interest in exploring an origin story for the monster(s). The appeal is much more universal than the country sports backdrop of that prior novel, and the death count is much, much higher. In fact, it's so high that it can't be counted, given that it includes the complete population of an early morning train and that after we've given up trying to count the victims.
The biggest reason that it succeeded so massively, though, was the heat wave that struck the UK in 1976, making it the hottest summer there in over 350 years, requiring the passing of a Drought Act and the appointment of a Minister for Drought.
This may seem odd to write, given that I'm currently living in Phoenix, Arizona, aka Hell's Boiler Room, where I've personally experienced multiple temperatures over 120° F, but it got up to 96.6 °F in Cheltenham on 3rd July, 1976, the very same month that 'Night of the Crabs' hit shelves. People were flocking to the Welsh beaches to take advantage of the heat and what better companion there than a horror novel featuring people flocking to the Welsh beaches to take advantage of the heat? These locationsLlanbedr, Barmouth, Arthog, even Shell Islandare real.
The only, somewhat minor, difference is that the novel featured also a cast of giant crabs invading the coastal towns to dismember and eat whoever they could find. No wonder sales figures quickly rose into six digits. What better thrill than lying on a Welsh beach imagining that, when the moon rose, an army of killer crustaceans would emerge from the sea and seek human flesh on the very beach where you're reading 'Night of the Crabs'?
The story is even more textbook than 'The Slime Beast'. In chapter one, our first two victims are taken, though we don't see how. They're Ian Wright and Julie Coles, both boyfriend and girlfriend and assistants to Professor Clifford Davenport, Ian's uncle. They're strong swimmers and it's while they're racing each other round the South End of Shell Island on the Welsh coast, that they vanish without a trace.
After a week passes and the bodies fail to wash up on shore, the police are willing to let it go as another tragic swimming accident. They do happen. But Cliff Davenport doesn't buy into that and he drives up to Llanbedr to "poke around a bit". He quickly finds clawmarks on the beach, all along the tide line. "But what in the name of heaven could have left a print that size? It's, it's like a crab, only dozens of them, and a hundred times as big!"
The professor hits it off with a young lady staying at the same private hotel, Pat Benson, who has also seen the clawmarks in the sand, and they investigate, leading to an early classic line. "What a beautiful night," she tells Cliff. "If only we didn't have to worry about giant crabs."
They're out at night in search of these crustacean anomalies and indeed they spy them, coming ashore in waves. There are more than forty, bigger than cows, and their leader is half as big again. Davenport dubs him King Crab and believes that he's an intelligent leader. It's King Crab who dismembers Bartholomew the beachcomber, limb by limb. "A helpless pitiful trunk of humanity squirmed on the blood-soaked sand" before a swift slice of his pincer eviscerates him to end his misery.
There's a War Department airbase near Shell Island and it's when the crabs attack that, killing five and downing a tower, that the powers that be actually believe what Cliff has been telling them all along. The army promptly deploys tanks and mortars, only to find that the crabs armour plating isn't just bulletproof, it's tankproof. Oh, and these crabs promptly lift the tank, carry it to the harbour wall and dump it into the sea. They're not going to be taken down that easily, even in a novel that runs a mere 144 pages and 42 of those taken up by blank pages around the chapter numbers.
I may not adore this novel as much as I adore 'The Sucking Pit' from the previous year, but I adore it nonetheless. The more times I go back to this one, the more comfortable it seems. Davenport is a decent lead, even if he's a widow at almost forty whose hair is starting to recede and grey prematurely. Pat Benson, married but abandoned, doesn't contribute to fighting the crustacean threat in the way he does, but she's no flouncing damsel in distress.
After the pair firm up their relationship with a quickie in the sand dunes and another surreptitiously in Mrs. Jones's hotel, she decides that wherever he goes, she goes and she won't hear otherwise. The professor quickly realises that he needs to go along with her. "Already he was learning that it was futile to argue with Pat once her mind was made up." She's tough, she's intelligent and she's more than willing to stand up for herself and that's refreshing.
Now, the general premise is ridiculous and there's no attempt to explain why there might be flesh-eating monster crabs off the Welsh coast beyond a brief mention of a theory: "Underwater nuclear experiments in another part of the world causing them to grow to tremendous proportions?" The ending, when Davenport figures out how to stop the crabs for good, arrives far too quickly and it's clearly left open for a potential sequel. Sure enough, 'Killer Crabs' showed up in May 1978. This isn't great literature.
It is, however, a fantastic pulp horror read and it was the right book for the right time. It never gets old because Guy always wrote very accessible fiction that's shorn of any of the brand names and pop culture fads that tend to date books far too quickly. Having brought the werewolf legend from the continent to Britain in 'Werewolf by Moonlight', he followed suit by bringing the fifties American sci-fi monster movie to Britain with 'The Slime Beast' and 'Night of the Crabs'. None of these are original stories but they are given an original location and they're told with a quintessentially British voice.
The world belonged to Guy N. Smith in the summer of 1976 and a broad and prolific career as an author followed in the wake of 'Night of the Crabs'. Click. Click. Clickety-click. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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