Some have called The Bible "The Greatest Story Ever Told".
That's only because they haven't read "Eat Them Alive" by Pierce Nace.
If one book can separate the men from the boys, this is that book.
First published in the US by Manor Books in '77, it was quickly picked up by New English Library (NEL) in the UK and released in December of the same year.
"A New Peak in Horror", the cover blurb trumpeted, confirming that there was truth in advertising at last
If Pierce Nace hadn't written about a dickless ne-er-do-well and his army of bloodthirsty prey mantises, Guy N. Smith would have done so sooner or later. But even Guy may not have troweled on the blood and guts with the unabashed enthusiasm of Nace.
The back cover of the NEL edition sets up the premise nicely:
Irresistible, isn't it, fellas? A volcanic island splits open and hellish creatures emerge. Did these monsters head for Toyko or New York to destroy streets and buildings and fleeing pedestrians? No way! These buggers emerged looking for a leader and they found one in Dyke Mellis, a recently castrated sailor with the smarts of Gilligan and the shoulder chip of Willard.
Even his name is masterful -- "Dyke", a word usually associated with butch lesbians and bodies of water you're best advised to steer clear of 'less you catch a dose of Hep C.
Nace, whose identity and whereabouts are unknown, had a drip running directly into the crimson arteries of pulp.
Pulp fans love islands. I know I do. Islands of mutants. Islands of death. Islands of lost souls. Islands of women imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. Islands of malformed men and half-formed infants. "Eat Them Alive" gives us an island with a fantastic name, Malpelo (there's something very atomic about that), a cripple (we love those cripples), and a monster named Slayer.
Yes, folks, not only does Dyke, named after lesbians, succeed at leading a gang of vengeance-seeking stick insects, he forges a close relationship with their esteemed leader. A relationship forged in geysers of spurting blood.
After Dyke feeds his enemies, Pete and Zeb (another great name), to the mantises, he goes after every other fucker who ever did him wrong. In the following exchange with another enemy, Kane, from p.137 of the NEL edition, Dyke emphasizes the importance of taking credit for his acts of vengeance:
"You'll credit me when my mantises start biting off arms and legs, when they slit bodies open, when the blood runs red all over the fancy table and yard out there."
"You're off your rocker," is Kane's reply.
"We'll go outdoors now, old pal," Dyke continues. "We'll go out and have a big, fat ball watching your wife and kids and those rich neighbors of yours going into my mantises' bellies, one piece at a time."
Dyke's noble, long term ambitions are summed up in this declaration from p.135:
"I will eat the food on the table while Slayer and the other mantises dine on the people. This is not a bad way to live, not bad at all. If I could get by with it, I'd like to live like this for the rest of my life, raiding rich homes and eating their food and making off with their prized possessions, letting my beasts slit the bodies and spill the blood and reduce the people to a heap of marrowless bones."
This truly is pulp horror's Shangri-La, a classic with enough meat and gristle to satisfy the most jaded punter.
The book is filled with long, detailed descriptions of dismemberment that sometimes last for pages, not paragraphs.
"Immediately they were taken by Slayer. One by one he threw women to the ground and tore off their sweet-tasting breasts. After sucking a few mouthfuls of each female's blood, he tossed her aside and seized a new woman who could give him more soft, round parts. In only a few minutes he had cut of the lovely breasts off every woman who was still untouched, or who had been claimed by another mantis..."
"Slayer was at his best and most vicious. He was choosing women and children exclusively, seeming to know that he would find their meat more tender than that of the men. While Dyke kept his gun trained on the people not yet claimed by the insects, Slayer crouched beside his master, eating babies and children almost whole, not bothering to tear them to bits, and finding his ultimate joy in the women he stripped and slit and ate."
DeSade would have appreciated Nace.
If anybody was still unconvinced, Slayer's status as a true breast man is confirmed in this exchange:
"The breasts were always Slayer's first bite of a woman, apparently his most exciting delicacy. As Dyke watched, the redheaded beast sliced off a breast, held its nipple up for a breath, and then stuffed it into his great gullet, chewing it with obvious pleasure. Then he slashed off the other breast and devoured it just as eagerly. Blood was streaming from the female now, and Slayer drank it from the holes where her breasts had been."
The writing is admittedly awkward at times, but this minor gripe is eclipsed by the gleeful abandon with which Nace describes the coming to power of his psychopathic hero.
I can not recall another novel that splashes around so happily in a nihilistic trough of pig shit.
It is utterly and gloriously relentless.
At 75p in the UK, $1.75 in the U.S., or $1.95 in Australia, this was a bargain of nucleur proportions.
I remember tucking myself away in a corner of my Catholic boys' school playground devouring Nace's words with the passion of Slayer devouring a mammary gland. The week before I'd been surrounded by other schoolboy miscreants who'd salivated over my reading out loud of explicit passages of sex and horror from James Herbert's "The Rats" and Guy N. Smith's "The Sucking Pit."
It was going to be much tougher selecting which good bits to read from "Eat Them Alive" because the entire book was "good bits".
I've always been curious about the "First Time in Paperback" announcement on the cover of the Manor edition. Are they implying that there was a hardback? A hardback of "Eat Them Alive"? My God, I'd fight a hungry mantis to get my hands on that! I have searched high and low for a hardback edition, but I've never found anything to suggest that there was one. If anybody has one, please let me know. I'm prepared to make you a very generous offer you won't be able to refuse.
"Eat Them Alive" has never been reprinted. Speculation on the author's actual identity is rife on internet forums. One suggestion is that Nace is a woman. Although the strong, misogynistic tone of the book would suggest otherwise, I'm not that easily dissuaded. Afterall, there are plenty of women out there who hate women. We've all met one or two of them.
Thank you, Pierce Nace, whoever you are, whatever you are, and wherever you are, for giving us The Greatest Told Ever Told. If you hadn't told it with such unabashed honesty, we'd still be stuck with The Bible. And I'm afraid I don't believe a word of that.