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FROTHING AT THE MOUTH
novels about rabies by
David Anne, W. Harris & Jack Ramsay


click to enlarge
David Anne
Day of the Mad Dogs
Corgi, London, 1978
(first published by
WH Allen, 1977)
price: 85p; 250 pages
click to enlarge
W. Harris
Saliva
Star, London, 1977
price: 60p; 160 pages
click to enlarge
Jack Ramsay
The Rage
Ace, New York, 1978
(first published Sphere, London, 1977)
price: $1.95; 220 pages


The blurbs on the back:

Day of the Mad Dogs:
The chilling novel that could become fact.
'Exciting and terrifying' - the
Sun
The chilling story of what
could happen if rabies did hit Britain.
'As gripping as a canine's canines' -
Times Literary Supplement
It started when John and Paula Denning smuggled a lovable stray across the Channel. It ended in total terror...
'Horror is piled on horror ... whew!' -
Sunday Telegraph

Saliva:
The Kiss of Death
It was such an idyllic scene, a picnic in the Chantilly woods with the family and the dog, and it had such disastrous consequences: the spread of rabies into Britain. It is not just animals that can be carriers of this hideous death, but also human beings. The virus, present in saliva, can be transmitted just by a kiss ... The dog bit it master, who passed the disease and the madness to his mistress.
She was the wife of the British Prime Minister and her rabid, slavering collapse at an international conference in Brighton caused public panic and private pain - and revealed all too clearly a network of diplomatic infidelities.
While scientists searched for the source of the contagion and newspapers howled for action, picnickers were pouring into Chantilly...

The Rage:
It began in the French countryside. A fox an a dog grappled, a man got bitten, fell sick, died.
The dog ended up next in the stables of the Count's estate. Little Emma loved animals, and thought nothing of petting the dog. Her family thought nothing of bringing the dog back with them to their home in England.
And so began the epidemic that swept England... an epidemic of terrifying proportions as people and animals struggled in the convulsive death throes of rabies. Lambert Diggery refused to believe his daughter suffered from more than a virus, but when journalist Andrew Stern began to investigate the strange reports of illness, he learned that Diggery's daughter had more than a virus... and that Diggery himself was much more than a well-paid civil servant. Stern himself, inveterate bachelor, perennial cynic, found his own world turned inside-out in his quest for the cause of the rabies. But when he put together all the pieces — of the story and of himself — it was too late. Time had run out.


opening lines:

Day of the Mad Dogs:
George's death hung like a shadow over the whole holiday.

Saliva:
On New Year's Day, 1944, eight German divisions struck at the American Seventh Army south of the Saar.

The Rage:
The old man slept that night as he always had, on his back, his arms folded across his chest, his left leg crossed over his right.


Well obviously slugs and pigs and crabs can be quite scary in their own way, but we all know that the most terrifying animal of all is the dog. Particularly the rabid dog. The idea that man’s best friend can suddenly be infected by terminal madness and can in turn infect you is fantastically frightening.

Unfortunately it’s also a theme that’s never been convincingly depicted in literature or the movies. The best known attempt was Stephen King’s Cujo, but that book’s effectively a short story bloated up to airport-novel length, whilst the 1983 film was directed by Lewis Teague with all the imagination and creative flair that he’d later bring to his magnum opus, The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion.

Before King, there were these three British entries into the field, all feeding on the fear that a few miles of English Channel may not be enough to protect us from contamination. Which, of course, suggests a subtext far more immediate than King’s American perspective: the nigh-on simultaneous appearance of these novels shortly after the British referendum on whether to leave the European Union might lead you to think that that they have more interest in Europhobia than in hydrophobia. Or is that just fanciful?

In any event, none is particularly startling. David Anne gives us a solid workmanlike horror story – competent but, despite that wonderful endorsement from the Times Literary Supplement, quite a long way from being gripping. Not as polished, but far more fun is Saliva, which starts with badgers feeding on dead bodies during the final German counter-offensive of the Second World War. We flash forward thirty years and find ourselves confronted by a colony of rabid badgers with a taste for human flesh. A French civil servant becomes infected (via his dog) and ... well, you know what these Frenchmen are like: dozens of mistresses, never happier than when swapping bodily fluids with married women. Before you can say ‘Jacques Delors’ you’ve got the whole diplomatic and political structure of Europe frothing at the mouth.

Actually, when you put it like that, you realize that maybe it’s not so fanciful to see this as a commentary on European integration. It just happens to be written in a deranged über-trash kind of way.

And just in case there’s any doubt that it’s the new Euro-cracy that we should be fearing, The Rage has as its anti-hero a British civil servant working in Brussels. His daughter smuggles a stray dog into Britain, and when she dies having been infected with rabies, the civil servant covers up the source of the outbreak. Unfortunately for him, an investigative journalist is already checking him, trying to get to a story about his use of prostitutes in Europe.

Of the three, The Rage is far and away the best bet. It’s not quite after the James Herbert model, lacking the salacious descriptions of deviant sex, but it's not far off: certainly it has something of Herbert’s sense of tension and narrative drive about it. Lord knows what America (where my copy was printed) made of the political subtext though.

Walter Harris (born 1925) was also responsible for Droop (not The Droop, you understand), The Day I Died, Clovis, The Mistress of Downing Street and The Fifth Horseman - see below. More than that I cannot add.


Day of the Mad Dogs
ARTISTIC MERIT: 2/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5
Saliva
ARTISTIC MERIT: 2/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5
The Rage
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5


from the maker of:
ladies
The Mistress of Downing Street
ladies
The Fifth Horseman

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