Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to the first of June’s two bonus Carry on Screaming posts. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.
The Spear by James Herbert
When Steadman agreed to investigate the disappearance of a young Mossad agent, he had no idea he would be drawn into a malevolent conspiracy of neo-Nazi cultists bent on unleashing an age-old unholy power on an unsuspecting world.
Title: The Spear | Author: James Herbert | Publisher: New English Library | Pub. Year: 1978 | Pages: 253 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 4 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
Like this month’s main book ‘The Devils of D-Day’. ‘The Spear’ is a novel that reflects back on the Second World War from a contemporary position. In this case, it examines more closely the aftereffects of the war, in particular the creation of Israel and the ongoing fight by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to bring its perpetrators to justice.
Herbert’s hero is Steadman, a British agent who has worked with Mossad (the Israeli secret service) in the past and now runs his own security service. He is approached by old contacts from Israel to help find a young agent who has gone missing in Britain, and soon finds himself pitted against a mysterious neo-Nazi group.
Unlike the protagonists of ‘The Rats’ and ‘The Fog’, who were ordinary men who got involved in the horrors of the book by chance, Steadmen is a more traditional hero. He is a muscular man of action, and indeed the book often feels like the kind of espionage thriller that was popular in the 70s. There are shoot-outs, chases, disguises and double crosses. For much of the book, the horror elements are almost non-existent, but then Herbert throws in something horrific or downright creepy and you know he’s going to deliver in the end. There’s a gruesome murder early on and even a demonic tank like that in ‘The Devils of D-Day’.
This time it’s definitely the Nazis who are dabbling with darkness, and the book explores similar themes to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (which came out three years later) and Dennis Wheatley’s ‘They Used Dark Forces’. The notion that Hitler was fascinated with the occult is one that seems to have caught the public imagination around this time. I wonder if it was in some ways an unconscious attempt by western society to rationalise the horror of the crimes of the Nazis.
The more traditional plot of the book helps Herbert overcome the episodic nature of some of his other stories. Unfortunately, it also means he has less license to insert the kind of wonderful little character studies that he does so well. It’s a rollicking ride though, action-packed, gripping and tense throughout. Whilst the horror elements don’t really come to the fore until the end, when they do they’re pretty incredible. The climax is memorably and enjoyably horrible. Speaking of climaxes, Herbert throws in a decent amount of bad sex as well. The phrase “probing her sweet dampness” is used, and the book also features a character labelled as “the hermaphrodite”, which isn’t a word you hear often in these more enlightened times.
Politically, this does feel like a book very much of its time. Arabs are all terrorists, and whilst Herbert certainly doesn’t portray the Nazis as anything but evil monsters, there is a fascination with them that you don’t see nowadays. The fact that each chapter starts with a quote from Hitler was something I found uncomfortable to say the least. That aside, this is an entertaining read. A blend of 70s spy thriller and graphic horror, that’s gripping from start to finish and an interesting departure from Herbert’s earlier books.
I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.
Book: 4 out of 5
Cover: 3 out of 5 – The cover has a nicely menacing edge, but it’s nothing too special.
Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – A bit of a let down from Herbert. The ending is memorably gruesome, but the book overall lacks the gore he’s famous for,
Sauciness: 4 out of 5 – There’s at least one very explicit sex scene. Plus the hermaphrodite!
Cover promise vs delivery: 4 out of 5 – The cover promises creepy Nazi stuff and delivers it.
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 18/25
Tune in again next week for the last of this month’s three Carry on Screaming posts. The Crabs are back!