Croc  (UK: NEL, 1977, 1979)

"In the tradition of 'Night of the
Crabs' "

Now any book that compares itself to Guy N.
Smith's pulp horror classic,
Night of the
can't be all bad. Back in the '70's and
particularly the '80's the bookshelves were
aswarm with giant crocs and alligators and
this is just one of them. First off, gotta love
that cover. Very nice painting by whoever did
it, a staff guy at NEL one would think. It's the sort of cover that would
have drawn me in...which is something today's mass market horror
publishers seem to have forgotten as they package their horror so it
looks likemainstream drivel or the lastest limp whodunnit. But
enough of my bitching and onto the book at hand. The author, David
James, is a pseudonym of David Hagberg, a guy best known for his
hi-tech spy thrillers. But Hagberg has written under a variety of pen
names and churned out everything from movie novelizations to Nick
Carter espionage novels. Horror is not his specialty, so let's see how
he does.

We'll start by asking the obvious question: does
Croc have any
teeth? Let's see if there's any action down in the sewers:

"The crocodile was racing past him, and Reamers only had time to
look up as the beast's mouth opened wide, then closed with a
sickening crunching sound around the torso of one of the men. Blood
spurted from the man as he was crushed like an overripe red plum in
the powerful jaws, his face suddenly turning black, and then flesh and
sinew pushed and gushed out of his mouth."

Hey...not bad at all, Mr. James. But can you keep it coming, baby?
Do you have the staying power to satisfy us gore-hounds and
carnage-addicts? Let's see:

"For a moment it seemed as if his friend was about to say something,
his mouth opened wide. But blood suddenly gushed from his mouth,
nose, eyes and ears and he was violently spun around and pulled
under, the water boiling and alive. In the next instant Fascetti's body
raised high out of the water in the mouth of the gigantic reptilian

The old alligator-in-the-sewer thing has long been a favorite of horror
and comic book writers as well as the grist of urban legends. It all
stems back to a supposed happening in the 1930's when a trio of
teenagers pulled an eight-foot alligator from a New York storm drain.
The Sewer Superintendent was forced to investigate and found
dozens upon dozens of the reptiles thriving down there and some
were said to have been much larger than eight-feet. The alligators
were killed, but the legend lived on. Particularly in horror fiction. I
Monsterquest recently investigated the story. I don't think
they found any gators or crocs, but that doesn't mean we won't by
way of David James.

The plot of this one is fairly simple: one night a pair of NY sewer
workers, Fascetti and Boggs, go down to clear out some clogs in the
storm drains and Fascetti gets eaten by a giant sewer croc. And I do
mean giant: this baby is a thirty-footer, a saltwater croc grown to
immense proportions, the sort that probably haven't been seen since
the Mesozoic. Boggs escapes but knows that no one will believe him
with his history of drinking on the job. He confesses the story to
Fascetti's wife, Andrea, and though she doesn't absolutely believe
him, she knows her husband has not returned. She tells the police
and Wickery, Boggs's boss, but neither believe her, so she makes
Boggs go down after the creature with her husband's gun. Boggs
has no choice...Andrea's family are in the Mafia and if he doesn't, it
won't be good. Boggs goes down after croc and is trapped below
with the beast hunting him. But Andrea, pregnant and her baby now
fatherless, will not give up. She forces the issue. A cop named
Stapleton goes down in the sewers where Boggs and Fascetti
were...he finds no Boggs, but a boot with a badly mangled foot in it
that must belong to Fascetti. Now Stapleton and Reamers, a
journalist, must lead a team below to find Boggs who is still hiding
down there and kill the monstrous man-eating reptile.

Pros: This is a fun book with great atmospheric descriptions of the
sewers and the waste flowing in them. It makes for an excellent
setting for a horror story. The book is short and at 157 pages it really
flies. James is a capable writer and he brings some good characters
into play and one goddamn nasty croc!

Cons: The characters were interesting and I wished they'd been
fleshed-out a bit more. And I would have liked to see more croc
attacks, more bloodshed and feeding.

Overall: A good read. Coming in at about the size of a novella, this is
a perfect book for an afternoon at the beach.

3½ bloody skulls out of five.

Our next Guilty Pleasure:

"A chilling masterpiece of many-legged horror..."
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