(2016) Ezekiel Boone, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, xiii + 334pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21517-7
No spoilers here, but the cover of The Hatching ever so slightly – not! - gives the game away as to what this novel is about, but I shall plough on, after all you might be reading this without sight of the cover and it seems ironic as I write this review that I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! is currently on the television every night as several of the so-called celebs have a thing about certain animals, mentioning at the start of proceedings that they are afraid of snakes and spiders and rats and any sort of bug and then they start shrieking and yelling every time they encounter one, whether by entering a room or a tank of water or being put inside a confined space where the not-so-little darlings can scurry or slither over your body or around your head. One trial even involved holding a critter in your mouth, with some legs dripping out over your chin. Having endured such face-to-face ordeals then The Hatching is probably the book for them, especially since it all kicks off in a jungle as billionaire Bill Henderson, owner of Henderson Tech, and major political donor, is being led through the jungle next to Manu National Park in Peru, accompanied by his bodyguard and a bevy of beauties. Leading the way is local guide, Miguel, who is perplexed by the lack of wildlife. He has got a bad feeling about this, which climaxes in a blood-curling scream and the appearance of a man running towards them, followed by a dark wave of…something.
Cut to America, as FBI agent, Mike Rich gets a call to get over to Minnesota, telling him to investigate a crash scene as Henderson’s plane has crashed there, and it might be an act of terrorism, but it is not, it’s just terror of the old fashioned variety. Meanwhile (think of a visual effect in old TV shows like The Man from Uncle or Wonder Woman), on the other side of the world an earthquake has been detected in a remote part of China, but it is not a natural earthquake, it’s a man-made one, now why would the Chinese want to cause an earthquake in their own country?
Cut back to America, when Professor Melanie Guyer gets a package from someone who was working on a dig in Peru which contains a very, very old wooden box with an egg sac inside from a species of animal that was thought long extinct, but if it was extinct it is not going to be for long as the eggs start to hatch and something has emerged that is very, very hungry and has the ability to breed incredibly fast, which is never a good thing. It’s the end of the world, Jim, but not as we know it.
All in all The Hatching is kind of a throwback novel. While James Herbert got in first a long time ago and kicked off his long horror career with The Rats, it was the success of Jaws, both in print and on the big screen that prompted a whole sub-genre of books and films featuring killer animals, ranging from everything from grizzly bears to killer bees – I have a particular soft spot for Arthur Herzog’s novel The Swarm but no soft spot at all for the pretty awful film version. The Hatching harks back to those days. It is big, and broad-brushed in terms of its characterisation and action sequences and scene-flipping, but it is a page-turner and if you can forget the cringe-making characterisation (where some characters are barely described or so similarly described that they seem to blend into each other) and over-the-top dialogue, there is some nice tense scene-setting and some gruesome dispatching of characters along the way, although even those become a bit repetitive after a while.
No surprise that a sequel called Skitter is on the way as well as a TV series, and probably the latter will work better than the B-movie book-form. To borrow a line from Jaws, “we’re going to need a bigger bit of rolled up newspaper” to tackle this lot.
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