Vermin by Jack Greene has a foreword where she thanks James Herbert as being an inspiration and after reading this book, you can certainly see that. Perhaps too much in the end, to the books overall detriment.
Simply put if you didn’t know differently you could confuse this for a James Herbert story. Basically, The Rats but swapping them out for squirrels. Yes, it really is as silly as it sounds but is strangely compelling too.
In a small English town, the squirrel population has got a taste for human flesh after having been driven from their homes because of a forest fire. Forced to find alternative means of food, they started with small animals before finding the taste of human to their liking. This mixed with in-breeding results in a new strain of smarter, more ruthless and disease carrying squirrel that threatens all those who live in the small town.
It’s up to a local pet detective to find out just what is happening and how to stop it.
Sounding familiar? Unfortunately Vermin, for its positives, does come across as James Herbert-lite. Unwilling to take many of the risks that you associate with the horror writer. Here, Greene has flashes where you expect things to get really graphic and gory but it always comes up short. The descriptive style is just too vague making it hard to picture the events taking place.
This becomes an even bigger issue when it comes to characters. The ones here, in particular the leads, are utterly forgettable faceless beings. You can’t help but get the impression that Greene would have been happy to not even bother including them for all their actual usefulness.
The stars of this book are the squirrels. As absurd as an army of killer, man-eating tree rats might be, Greene does a decent job of making them somewhat threatening. It is hard to take the villains too seriously but their attacks and hunger for flesh makes for a unique idea.
We probably could have done without pages and pages where we see things from the squirrel’s perspective though.
The thing is, just like many of Herbert’s books, Jack Greene’s Vermin is addictive reading. You’ll keep turning page after page waiting to see what horrors come next. It’s not a challenging read and doesn’t overstay its welcome so can be enjoyed by most. Just don’t expect anything ground-breaking.
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Vermin (Jack Greene)
The Final Score - 6/10