by Guy N Smith
111 pages, New English Library
Review by Pat Black
“When I’m paid, I always see the job through,” says Lee Van Cleef’s character in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This is just before he double-crosses the guy who hired him with a bullet through the noggin. Give or take a violent act or two, I feel the same way in reviewing another Guy N Smith classic.
There’s nothing new to say. It feels like going through the motions. I’ve also read his crustaceans-run-amok-sideways classic Night of the Crabs in the past month or so, but surely we’ve exhausted all avenues with that series. We shall go no more a-crabbing.
I was given The Sucking Pit as a gift, and it was a good giggle for its short length. Written in 1975, it’s got all the components of a trash classic from that era: a hint of the occult, a fair bit of sex, and plenty of senseless violence.
We follow Jenny Lawson after she finds her grubby uncle dead in his cottage, in the middle of Hopwas Wood, somewhere in the Midlands. Romany blood runs in the family, and Guy seems to imply that this means there is some kind of supernatural talent bubbling away in their DNA. In addition to this, Uncle Tom has access to a black book of magic spells. Jenny finds the book, and decides to take advantage of its listed enchantments by slaughtering some furry animals and making herself into a Sexperson.
I’m not sure what advantage this spell actually confers upon her. It makes her nastier and a bit sexier, but doesn’t strictly speaking give her any special powers. She just wears fewer clothes and gets a bit of an attitude.
Jenny dumps and humiliates her boyfriend, the reporter Chris Latimer, before literally emasculating some other poor bloke who takes her up on an offer of a ride in an alleyway for two pounds. I’m not sure if that’s a bargain or not, taking inflation into account (the price, not the castration).
Then she moves into her uncle’s not-so-magic cottage, meeting and greeting a giant called Cornelius who turns up at the door. He says he’s the king of the gypsies. Fair play to you, your majesty, says Jenny, before dropping her scants. Here at last, thinks the lust-crazed Jenny, is a real man.
After some bonking, she discovers that the gypsies want to reclaim this part of the wood from the landowner, as it houses the Sucking Pit – a bottomless pool of quicksand used by the gypsies to bury their dead, as well as any other corpses it might be convenient to dump. Despite the awesome front cover, the Sucking Pit does not seem to house any monsters or ghosties, although there is a legend or two and some spooky moments involving mist creeping over the bog.
Tramps never last long in Smith’s books, and one of them is killed horribly before a grave is robbed. This forms the best part of the more interesting opening section of the book; it doesn’t make much sense, but it crams in some sleazy content particular to the seventies which holds the attention if nothing else. Let’s have a bit of black magic… no matter that it seems to be a matter of merely drinking some hedgehog blood… here’s some sex… here’s some gratuitous violence…
So you can’t really say that this novel “goes off the rails” at any point. It’s never on them. There are no rails. You’re chuffing billy tottering along a canal bank.
If someone challenged you to write a horror novella in two days, just 100 or so pages off the top of your head with no planning, it would look something like The Sucking Pit. I’ve a feeling this is exactly what Guy N Smith used to do. He could probably churn these numbers out at a couple of days’ notice, get them signed off at NEL, and then start another one. It sounds like bliss, but it doesn’t make for good fiction. It’s entertaining, at any rate - until the plot kicks in.
Technically, our first antagonist is Sir Clive Rowlands, the landowner, who is seduced by Jenny as a means of getting herself written into his will. Completely and utterly out of his mind with lust, Sir Clive consents to everything she asks for, until she arouses his suspicion by asking for… a car.
It’s almost like Bully’s big prize board on Bullseye. She’s won a microwave oven, a teasmaid, a cordless phone and the backgammon set; she decides to gamble for the car, but… Uh oh. Sir Clive twigs that the young lady might be into him for more than his sweaty, flabby crisis-sex. He tries to offer her some BFH. That’s when things go awry. Well, awry-er.
Separately, Jenny’s cuckolded boyfriend Chris tries to find her, surmising that there’s something wrong with his good lady other than a deep need to spurn him for better sex with real men. He bumps into another “wronged” person, Sir Clive’s dutiful wife, Pat (no relation), who begins to suspect that her husband’s late nights have less to do with estate management than quivering ultrasex with a travelling community lust queen.
As in many other Guy N Smith books, this couple end up falling in love with each other after a bit of a fumble over the space of about two pages. Smutty couplings are basic components of trash fiction, but Smith always feels compelled to make his “good” couples fall in love. It’s almost wholesome, except that this takes place in a sex and murder novel, and it wouldn’t seem realistic to a 10-year-old. Surely it would be better to have the couple get together naturally without pledges of love? Or maybe they don’t even need to have sex? They could just find common ground and investigate what happened to their partners, Scooby Doo-style.
It’s not like the rest of the book is devoid of sex. We don’t need their sex, but Guy N Smith forces it on us anyway. Here, stock up on some sex, he says. I’ve got barrels of the stuff. Take some sex. Go on, have some more. You’re at Uncle Guy’s house – no need to be shy. Plenty of sex to go around. Get that sex down you. Go on, have one more bit of sex. You can fit another slice of sex in that belly of yours, can’t you?
No thanks, Guy, you say. My hands are full here… we’ve got plenty at home… No, you’re alright, Guy, we don’t need any more sex… Honestly… Guy… GUY, FOR F*CK’S SAKE, WE DON’T WANT ANY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!
Things build up to a satisfyingly violent climax. When Sir Clive and Cornelius face off, there’s a sense of a big bully being challenged by the class wimp. I haven’t actually rooted for someone in a book fight scene in years, so that goes in the plus column. For a few delicious swipes it looks like a surprise is on the cards, before Smith gets realistic.
There’s time for another confrontation near the Sucking Pit, where Chris Latimer demonstrates the golden rule of pulp fiction showdowns: if you really must take on some baddies, bring a shotgun.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to recommend Guy N Smith’s books to people. Regular people, I mean. Even read ironically, these stories are difficult to digest. They don’t make a lot of sense, and the characters don’t do sensible things. But like the Sucking Pit, once you’re caught in the world of Guy N Smith, you can’t drag yourself out.
And there’s so much more of it out there to discover. How I envy Smith’s career. How much more has he written than Evelyn Waugh? Or James Joyce? His published fictional output dwarfs that of George Orwell’s.
You cannot fault the work ethic, still going strong today. Got an idea? Go for it. 150 pages and you’re done. Zombie traffic wardens in Glasgow? Alligators in the West Country? Man-eating gerbils in Orkney? (One of these is a real plot for a Guy N Smith book, by the way.) Let’s do ‘em all!