The kids are not alright in Childmare, a 1980 Hamlyn original paperback from Nick Sharman, a pseudonym for one Scott Grønmark (1952-2020). A harmless food poisoning triggers a murderous rampage in the students of Britain’s inner city schools, turning thousands of ordinary children into robotic but surprisingly imaginative killing machines. Pretty soon all of England is in chaos because of homicidal teenagers.
The formula is familiar from fellow Brit James Herbert’s novels Rats (1974) or The Fog (1975), with an everyday element that suddenly creates an existential threat to mankind. Beginning with one kid bashing in his parents’ heads with a cricket bat, the acts quickly escalate to widespread torture, rape, decapitations and just good mayhem. Nobody can withstand the kids’ assault, except of course a manly hero can, in this case one Max Donnelly, an ex-everything security guard at a mid-London school. The kids begin their killing spree at the school and soon spread out all over London, taking over the streets.
While the contents might be bloodshed mostly as usual, Sharman’s style is anything but. The tone of the novel is oddly cold and unfeeling, especially as things escalate towards the end. The kids are quickly depicted as incurable, inhuman zombies, which gives the good guys license to mow them down with guns, cars, helicopter blades and so on. The final operation to get rid of the kids is named “Operation Herod”, an apt name if there ever was one, and perhaps an indication of the mindset in Thatcher’s Britain. No kid-glove treatment for these troublemakers! Also trying very hard not to read anything into the fact that only state schools are affected, but not private schools. Strangely enough, after the initial killings there are no parents in the novel, so apparently none of them were all that worried about their offspring.
The usual criticisms apply, for this is not a character-driven novel, all characters both teenage and adult are as thin as tissue paper. The writing in general feels rushed towards the end, probably because Sharman had a deadline and got a little bored with a book he must’ve known was very, very silly indeed. The action, however, delivers throughout, with barely any lulls between the first bashed-in heads and the final fire-bombing of the Thames. Politically correct Childmare obviously and empathically is not, everyone from a bullied fat kid to a black West-Indian is firmly stuck in their worst stereotypes. Childmare is trash, it’s nasty, it’s very dated, but in the end, that’s just how we like ’em.