Creepy crawlies go on a rampage in Devil’s Coach-Horse (1979), a Hamlyn nasty by Richard Lewis. One of Lewis’ many insect horror novels (Spiders, Night Killers etc), it’s a slim, fast-paced read very much in the mold of James Herbert‘s classic The Rats (1974).
Although named after the most evil-sounding beetle, the novel actually features several species. They get a taste for human flesh in the Alps; scientists returning from a conference crash their plane on a mountainside along with a number of bug specimen on board. To survive, the beetles seek shelter inside the humans. Later, the frozen corpses are brought home and properly buried – together with the eggs the beetles have laid in their rotting intestines.
Thus it begins. Soon swarms of beetles attack man and beast alike. As in all animal attack novels, the victims get their stories told. An abattoir guard whose wife has left him is one of the first victims, followed by a paranoid junior lecturer on a sexual escapade, as well as many others. It’s all very predictable, sooner or later the bugs appear and all the petty grudges and worries are forgotten as thousands of mandibles cut into the victims’ flesh.
And that’s the fun and the appeal of the format. Devil’s Coach-Horse isn’t original by any stretch of the imagination, but the vignettes are well written and the action is reliably creepy, proceeding at a good, rapid pace. For depth, there’s an ecological aspect as well. It’s hinted that the chemicals we pour on our crops may be one of the reasons the bugs went berserk. The solution isn’t free of doubt either, and its implications create a sense of lingering horror. The threat might be over for now, but who knows what mankind will next create to bring about its own demise.