Fleshbait  (UK: NEL, 1979)

"Suddenly...the sea becomes a
focus of terror."

All right, let's start out with the good stuff.
Cover isn't bad, hardly as imaginative as
many of the UK covers of the time...but not
too bad. Nice shot of a human hand sinking
into a sea of piranha-looking fish, lot of blood
oozing into the water. A for effort.
Next, onto the bad stuff. Let's face it: a lot of us bought these books
for the covers and covers alone. Whatwas inside was often secondary
and how many people saw the cover of this one--or dozens of like
titles--and thought,
hmm, this looks interesting. I'll buy it. And let's
face something else while we're at it: nobody ever picked up one of
these books looking for anything remotely intellectual or insightful or
world-changing. We expected crap, yes, but we also expected
ENTERTAINING crap. This title I did not read back in the day, as it
were. In my never-ending search for old school grue and gore I came
upon FLESHBAIT and was instantly intrigued. Ha! A fish story? Count
me in!

Fuck that. Count me out.

When I was a teenager and blew my eardrums out to Black Sabbath
and Judas Priest and AC/DC, my dad, who had been a drummer in
swing bands at one time, would just shake his head and say:
How can
you listen to that noise? Sounds like they write it while they're sitting on
the shitter.
And you know what? FLESHBAIT, unfortunately, reads like
it was written on the shitter. The writing is fair. The characters
unbelievably one-dimensional. The horror barely competent. The
plot...well, no better or no worse than most of these, but it's just
handled very poorly. As you will see.

Okay. Leaking radioactive waste causes fish to mutate. They become
not only smarter (their brains sometimes enlarge so fast their skulls
explode!) but they also become telepathic. You heard me: they can
read each other's minds. It's never mentioned if they can read our
minds or not, but that might have been a plus in a book badly in need
of one (I could picture Mr. Spock mind-melding with a herring or a
SALTING). I was expecting the fish to go nuts and eat people but,
sadly, this never happens.  Basically, they drown people, wreck boats,
make the beaches unsafe. The only decent scene is an attack by a
conger eel, but it's fairly bloodless and tame. You see, long have the
fish been pissed at us for eating them and killing them for sport and
now that they're smarter, aware, and have this groupthink/telepathy
thing going on, they are organizing like a labor union and they're mad
as hell and they're not going to take it anymore!

Our main characters our Mark Neilson, a zoologist, and his hot blonde
girlfriend Kathy Wilding, a marine biologist. Strictly cardboard types.
Mark is depressed by the death of his friend Mike (who we later
learned committed suicide because he was jealous of Mark's love for
Kathy...yeah, a little on the gay side, I'm thinking). Soon, Mark hears
about screaming fish and then he and Kathy--a marine biologist who
seems to know very little about fish--swing into action. If you want to
call it that. The real hero of this book is Bobby the Dolphin who warns
people of swarming/schooling bad fish and saves people from them.
No, I am not making this up. Bobby...the...fucking...Dolphin.
Apparently dolphins, being mammals, are not smart enough to be
pissed at us for making them perform for dead fish at Sea World and
they harbor no grudge for the thousands of dolphins we've
slaughtered for the sake of Chicken of the Sea and Charlie Tuna.
Either that or Bobby is just a little suckass. This whole Bobby the
Dolphin thing is so absurd I have to let you read it for yourself. Here,
he saves a dumb little girl:

"Carefully, so as not to frighten her, Bobby the Dolphin edged in close.
Using its snout, the dolphin eased the little girl back out of danger. As
soon as she was back on the beach, Bobby, with a last wave of his
flippers, turned and headed back out to sea."

The best part of this book is when Bobby the fucking Dolphin gets
blown up along with a radioactive reef that's spreading the
contamination that's mutating the fish and making us read this
miserable piece of shit in the first place.

Pros: I can't think of any. The only redeeming quality of this book is
that it's short and you only have to suffer for a few hours.

Cons: See above. I'm still shaking my head about Bobby the fucking

Overall: Overall this is wreckage. I don't know anything about the
authors of this steaming hot pile of excrement--David Holman and
Larry Pryce--but I'm thankful they didn't write any more books. This
was enough. You get the feeling they were probably a couple half-ass
editors or office boys at NEL looking for a check. My advice to you: go
read some Guy N. Smith. I'll darken your doorway with this crap no

½ a bloody skull out of five.

Our next guilty pleasure: Just in time for Halloween--

"Sweet little children...crazed with bloodlust."
Copyright 2016 by Tim Curran
Return to archive