Dark Regions Press
I think that Crustaceans was the first title by William Meikle that I ever picked up, ordering from the Dark Regions Press website, and it was the cover art that instantly attracted me to it. I’ve spoken at length about how a high-quality piece of cover art can attract new readers and make a title stand out from the crowd of similar titles in a genre as you’re scrolling through a Kindle feed, or looking through a publisher’s website, and Crustaceans is a perfect example of this. While the title of the novel makes it clear that the reader should expect a storyline involving crabs of some kind, and the back-cover blurb enthusiastically references giant crabs and the chaos they inflict on Boston, Manhattan and the surrounding areas, it’s the cover art that really sets the tone of the book. The upper portion of the cover features the Manhattan skyline, but all attention is drawn to the gigantic, menacing crab that looms over the bloody remains of a disembodied man, shell liberally spattered with blood, a severed hand casually resting in one claw. It’s an attention-grabbing piece art that openly hints at the style of story that is to follows, and despite the blood and intestines strewn underneath the titular crustacean, if anything it underplays the amount of blood and gore that is to follow.
Crustaceans is an engaging, tightly-plotted ‘creature feature’-style title that deliberately evokes memories of those old black-and-white (or occasionally technicolour) monster films from the 1950s and 1960s – movies that the author cites as one of his inspirations on the section for Crustaceans on his website. Although Mr Meikle cites classics like The Blob which he grew up with, as I rapidly progressed through the novel, I was reminded of several other films that I have watched in the past. The scenes of hordes of flesh-seeking crabs swarming through the Manhattan streets, pursuing crowds of panicked citygoers, and the desperate attempts by the National Guard to repel them, evoked memories of The Swarm, the criminally underrated 1978 film starring Michael Caine and Henry Fonda. One of the late-1970s disaster-genre films, The Swarm features dense clouds of killer bees rampaging through the American South, and the latter chapters of Crustaceans reminded me of that excellent piece of cinema. And the tense, claustrophobic scenes in the tunnels, sewers and crab lairs underneath the city took me back to the first time I saw Cloverfield, particularly early on in the film when the protaganists are fleeing the parasites carried by the main monster. Both Cloverfield and The Swarm are fantastic films, and Crustaceans effortlessly evokes the same thrills and chills that I got from watching them on the big screen.
As usual with stories written by Mr Meikle, the writing is first class and the characters his usual interesting collection, and you can tell that he had fun playing with the usual character archetypes found in disaster and apocalyptic movies, which in turn makes it that much more enjoyable to read. However the stars of the books are, of course, the crabs themselves, with the author imbuing the usually-harmless creatures with a significant amount of menace and sinister and unnatural behaviour. They make excellent foes, combining the sheer numbers of the zombie genre with abnormal strength and shell thickness, and a certain base intelligence, to create a genuinely terrifying foe. Meikle’s writing comes to the fore here, particularly during the attacks by the crabs, and limbs are chopped and guts strewn around with a great deal of gusto.
I raced through Crustaceans and enjoyed reading every page of it; my only (very mild) disappointment was the lack of a final chapter ‘stinger’ that would have acted as a prompt for a sequel! In conclusion, this is a fantastically enjoyable action-horror novel that deserves to be widely read, and fortunately is only one of a number of similar ‘creature feature’-style titles that Mr Meikle has had published.