Bloodworm (UK: Arrow Books, 1987)

"A mighty city fallen prey to a
bloodsucking nightmare."

All right. What better way to kick things off than
with this little offering by John Halkin, an old
hand at creepy-crawly horror as evidenced by
three previous books, SLITHER, SLIME, and SQUELCH. Now take a
moment and examine that cover. That's the thing. That's exactly what
made people buy this book: an immense worm with slime dripping from
its jaws rising up above the ruins of London. Okay. So that never really
happens anywhere in the story, but that doesn't mean there aren't other
things equally as hideous afoot:

"On the low platform before the blackboard lay a man's body
spreadeagled like so much carrion, its face destroyed--and its abdomen
open to the air, exposed, while several long, pale snake-like creatures
appeared to be feeding on it with slobbering mouths."


"The obscene white slug shifted, coiling over his face, its mouth still
fiercely sucking at his neck with such power that he felt his blood-vessels
bursting under the pressure and knew that his blood was being hungrily
drawn out."

First off, Halkin doesn't screw around. Within the first twenty pages he's
already shown you how the beetles--I'll explain this later--have already
nearly devoured one man and sharpened their teeth on a second who
manages to survive. And it's this guy--actually his name
is Guy--who will
soon become our saviour...the only man who can save London from the
bloodsucking nightmare. Now a few words about Guy. He's a
good-natured, likeable sort, ex-Army, with a darling little daughter
(Kath) and a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed whore for a wife (Dorothea).
See? Already, the plot thickens.

Okay. Plot, then. Buildings are falling down all over London.
Investigation proves that it's because of a boring woodworm tunneling
through wooden structures, weakening them. But this is no ordinary
woodworm. This is the Bloodworm. The larval stage--maggot--burrow
into wood and emerge as flesh-hungry beetles. When buildings
collapse, the beetles emerge and feast on anybody that happens to be
in the vicinity. Okay, fine. But what of our Bloodworms? Well, it seems
that there really aren't any true Bloodworms. An entomologist discovers
that the Bloodworms are actually a colonial organism made up of
thousands of maggots. These "colonies" form immense segmented
worms about the size of pythons that go from a pale white to a shiny
engorged pink when they feed on blood. Nice touch. The science of this
is never adequately explained. How do these pulpy white little
wood-boring maggots form themselves into giant worms? And how do
they mimic the sucking mouths of the worms or the black glassy eyes?
And, furthermore, why is it that wood-boring larva, when disturbed,
happily change their diet and feed on human blood? Oh, well, this isn't
Bio 101. The story is pretty fast-faced and exciting. London becomes
infested and pretty soon nobody is safe. Our hero, Guy, battles the
worm menace with a cop and our entomologist while his own domestic
life is falling apart: his wife was screwing some guy from the local pub
and while doing so, Kath--the daughter--walked in and saw it and ran
off in shame. Now Guy has not only the blood-sucking worm menace
and the flesh-eating beetle menace to deal with, but his daughter is lost
somewhere in the devastated ruins of greater London. And that,
essentially, is what propels our plot. Does Guy find his daughter? Does
he defeat the Bloodworm menace? Ha, you'll have to read to find out.

Pros: I liked the characters and the urban descriptions of London. The
writing was crisp and Halkin really kept things moving. The various
subplots seasoned things nicely.

Cons: There simply weren't enough human attacks in here for me and
not enough graphic close-ups of people being devoured. What there
was was good, but like the fat guy at the buffet I wanted more. The final
of this one is not the sort of all-out worm/beetle vs. human slaughter I
had hoped for.

Overall: A good read. Great cover. There was enough gore scenes in
here to slake my bloodlust without necessarily satisfying it. The ending
was kind of rushed and the pivotal battle should have been longer and
bloodier. But beyond that nitpicking, this is worth picking up and
definitely a keeper.

I give it 3½ bloody skulls out of five.

For our next Guilty Pleasure, we get the creeps:  

"Out of the earth crept mankind's oldest nightmare."
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