Given how successful 'Night of the Crabs' was for Guy N. Smith in the drought-fuelled summer of 1976 and how prolific he was at that time, having knocked out seventeen books in a mere three years, it's a little surprising that he didn't follow it up with an immediate sequel. Instead, his novel output for 1977 was made up of two thrillers in the 'Truckers' series, a return to his debut novel for a werewolf sequel and a war novel that he hoped would spark a new series. 'Killer Crabs' had to wait until 1978.
And, re-reading it many years after my last time through, it's crystal clear that Guy wasn't writing a Crabs novel at all, but a vague character study that would play out much more like a thriller if not for the presence of an army of giant crabs. It feels to me like he may have had this novel written already, or at least draughted, and then shoehorned in the crabs later so that New English Library could feel justified in marketing it as another horror novel. It seems like he wasn't yet ready to dive into an all-horror diet, but gradually found himself forced into that direction anyway.
The core story here really isn't about a new spawning of giant crabs off the Queensland coast, which is what Prof. Cliff Davenport, firmly believing that the crabs would be back one day, has been waiting to hear for the past four years. That story happens, of course, and it unfolds roughly how you expect it would. However, there's a McGuffin in the form of a suitcase containing £20,000 in stolen cash,that shifts ownership surprisingly often, almost as often as Caroline du Brunner opens her enticing legs.
Initially it's in the hands of Captain Manton, an "ugly but handsome" man in the thoughts of Caroline du Brunner, who recognises him as Frank Burke, an English bank robber who spent seven years inside for his crimes but who also managed to recover the stashed cash and hightail it to Australia after his release. He's Caroline's partner for her fourth and fifth sex scenes, even though "rugged" is a rather gracious description of him. Sure he's fifteen stones of muscle without an ounce of fat and he has the stamina of a bull in bed, but he also has a damaged ear and scarred lower lip, a left eye permanently half closed and a nose that's been broken at least twice. Maybe I only need to develop a six-pack to be in with the rich nympho ladies!
It doesn't stay with Burke, however, because it's taken from him during the crabs' invasion of Hayman Island, a coordinated military attack in waves of V formations, not that these gigantic creatures are easily halted. The Australian government has brought in a submarine and a naval destroyer, but the former's torpedoes had precisely no effect and the latter managed to stop one crab with a lucky shot before the rest overwhelmed it and sank the vessel right off the coast, one crab having dismembered its captain personally. Burke misses all of that because a crab climbs into the Royal Hayman Hotel in which he's been locked in after being robbed of the suitcase, and he dives out of the window to evade it, dying from the impact forty feet below.
From there, it goes through quite a chain of custody. It's actually forgotten by the character who stole it from Burke during the heat of the battle with the crabs and found by another character, who buries it. It's dug up by a third, only to be immediately taken by the first, who murders the third to possess it and it ends up with the local cops, because he's an idiot and the bag opens during a struggle with the police as he tries in vain to leave the island. This trail really doesn't matter to us in the grand scheme of things but it certainly matters to these characters, who become driven by their £20,000 McGuffin.
Meanwhile, the death toll continues to mount. Perhaps spurred on by the immense body count of his previous novel, 'Bamboo Guerillas', the author happily murders a slew of characters, so liberally that some of them never acquire names.
He kicked off giving them names, even giving us some character background to Capt. Ol Larsen in the prologue, the skipper of the 'Suelt' fishing boat out of Narvik, who might have been the first victim of the crabs if only he hadn't succumbed to a heart attack, brought on by his angina first, and before he could report the giant crustacean that his crew had caught. Even the lone leg left behind on the deck after its escape has a name, belonging to a crewman named Olsen whose acquaintance we had never made.
But, as the book runs on, Smith loses the will to generate more names. There's an army of marines on Hayman Island ready to do battle with the crabs and some of them are given dialogue, but none are given names. The initial non-crab subplot has to do with Japanese poachers ignoring the treaties and taking $50,000 of crabs out of the waters off Hayman Island every week. The crabs dismember one of their captains in memorable fashion, but he's not given a name and neither is a single member of his crew. The captain of the naval destroyer gets his own personal battle with a crab and his crew is soon gone too, with fourteen bodies recovered and fifty-seven missing, but none of them have names.
It's mostly the principal players who end up receiving names, though usually only one, even if they're pivotal to the plot. Primary among them is Klin, a fixture on the island who fishes for himself, takes a lot of parties out from the hotel on a freelance basis and even helps out Shannon on chopper patrols for sharks, the latter being the chief shark patrol officer on Hayman Island. Neither gets a Christian name, nor does Corder, a visiting Australian newspaper reporter who gets the initial word out about the crabs.
Then again, they're the good guys. It's the bad guys who end up with a pair of names, beginning with the nymphomaniac Caroline du Brunner, who orgasms rather a lot in this book and rides those waves like a professional surfer. There's a memorable scene at the start of the crabs' invasion of the island when the marine start firing just as she's experiencing her second orgasm to Frank Burke. He's right up and out of there but she's literally windmilling her legs from the ferocity of it all and maintains it with her fingers as he joins the evacuation of the hotel.
Frank Burke has two names, as du Brunner sex partner numbers three to four. Harvey Logan was sex partner number two but, as handsome as the big game hunter is with his deep tan, his thick golden hair and his carefully groomed goatee beard, he's an inept kisser, even more inept in bed and also a premature ejaculator for good measure. In case you're wondering, Klin was the first, fifth and sixth, but Smith, as if realising that there are way too many Caroline du Brunner sex scenes in this 150 page paperback already, saves us the details of the latter two.
Oddly, Bruce MacAndrew gets a pair of names even though he's not really a bad guy, just a Scotsman drinking himself to death on the Hayman Island beach. He shows up in chapter five, stumbling onto a severed head lapping in the ocean and memorably trying to figure out how Mackie the fisherman is able to take his head off. He's taken down hard by a giant crab before he outstays his welcome, which he surely would had he remained alive for much longer.
While Professor Cliff Davenport is here, alerted to the crustacean threat in Queensland by Grisedale at the Ministry of Defence, and he naturally figures out the eventual solution, he's arguably not the lead. I'd say that's Klin, who gets easily the most character development of a string of cast members without enough of that to shake a stick at.
Klin is a man who keeps himself to himself, unsociable and sometimes rude, but respected if not liked by the local fisherman and, when it comes time to find a leader to do battle with the poachers from Japan, he's their natural choice. He's a tall and rangy fixture on Hayman Island, his arrival a thing of local legend, and he wanders around in nothing but khaki shorts and sandals. He's insatiable in bed, which makes him the perfect partner for Caroline du Brunner; while he falls under her spell, he also has the strength of character to emerge from that, albeit a little late. She has a little depth too, but not much, her secrets a little surprising when revealed but very much in character.
I liked this first Crabs sequel but I didn't like it at the same time. I think it works as a pulp adventure novel, with its poachers and its seductions and its pass-the-parcel suitcase of stolen money. However, it has to be said that this pulp adventure is only half the novel and it would have worked better still had it been the whole thing. Similarly, it works as a Crabs story but it isn't remotely as great on that front as its predecessor, because 'Night of the Crabs' was only a Crabs novel and didn't have to dilute any of its focus to throw in all that other stuff. It concentrated on dismemberment and menace, the famous click, click, clickety-clicks coming a lot more frequently there than in this sequel.
And that's how I have to leave 'Killer Crabs'. It works on its own merits, but it would have worked far better had it split its two schizophrenic approaches into two separate novels, a general pulp fiction adventure novel and the Crabs novel that it purports to be but isn't really. It's two novellas, woven together into one book and, if you can imagine the two as different colours in, say, a stick of rock, it's clear that they don't mix particularly well at all.
Next month, it's the one I've been waiting a while to revisit. It's 'Bats Out of Hell', initially published in July 1978 but reprinted last year because it suddenly became acutely topical. Let the glass break in November and we'll see what flies out. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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