112 pages, Black Hill Books
Review by Pat Black
“Don’t waste the girl. Screw her.”
I envy Guy N Smith’s career. Writing nasty little NEL novels in the 1970s and 80s; a feast of blood, monsters, terror and tupping. About 120 pages and he’s done; he might have drafted one of these in the space of two or three days, and you suspect that on occasion he did.
His books are distinctly British. Whereas Night of the Werewolf saw us hunting lycanthropes in the Scottish Borders, The Slime Beast takes us to The Wash, a square bay gouged out of the east coast of England, separating East Anglia from Lincolnshire. There are plenty of wetlands - a haven for waterfowl, as well as flesh-eating reptilian monsters from beyond.
It’s also a haven for ignorant, lust-crazed hunters and superstitious yokels. I don’t think this book would be mentioned in any tourist guides for East Anglia, but we must give credit to Smith for his sense of location.
We have three main protagonists. First, Professor Lowson, an archaeologist on the hunt for the lost treasure of King John amid the oozing swamp of The Wash. One for ye metal detector enthusiasts: apparently the crown jewels of the king were lost amid the mud in 1216, and lie there still. Anyway, Professor Lowson has brought with him his fit niece, Liz, as well as his protégé, Gavin Royle. Gavin and Liz get it on; if Professor Lowson knows about this, and is annoyed or in any way protective, he doesn’t let on. He’s one of these arsey professors, arch and contemptuous of just about everyone and everything. When one of the mouth-breathing yokels shows up at the bunkhouse to give the treasure hunters stick, the professor simply smacks him one. You never get a laid back professor in these books, do you?
While looking for King John’s jewels, they find something amid the muck they didn’t bargain for; the slime beast. It’s a huge, bipedal reptilian creature which secretes some form of stinking ooze which causes retching, disgust and desperate scrambles for wet wipes. And it’s alive, too, apparently asleep in its icky bed, breathing with lungs despite being swaddled in suffocating mud for god knows how long.
This trio do what anyone else would do, if they found a nasty-looking reptilian beast entirely unknown to science, alive and well in the earth…
They bugger off back to their bunkhouse and leave it where it lies.
I’d read this section after a pint or two at the pub, and the next day I had to flick back to see if I’d missed something. I couldn’t remember how we got to the next scene. But, yep… They do nothing. Sensible Gavin wants to report it to the cops, but the professor nixes this idea, citing “a lack of evidence”. Secretly, he entertains grand dreams of taking command of the beast for himself, coveting the glory of discovery. I’m not sure how an archaeology professorship lets you muscle into the zoology faculty’s action, but I guess finding a slime beast is a game-changer.
“He’d shot onto her. It brought back memories.”
Mayhem, naturally, ensues, as the slime beast wakes up peckish goes on the rampage. Its origins are never properly explained. The treasure hunters do find some “strange, burned metal” just before they uncover the monster, and the yokels in the nearby town of Sutton speak of a strange meteor seen in the sky just recently. Then, after one of the local boys turns up in several different locations, a myth about a sea monster that guards King John’s treasure is aired. Blaming the interfering outsiders for waking the monster (not without justification), they then do what small town shite the world over does – they get their pitchforks out.
This one was a lot smuttier than the previous Smith book I’d read. Gavin and Liz don’t waste much time in getting together. Gentlemanly Gavin handles the virginal Liz with care - and by that I mean, he pulls out just in time to splooge on her thighs. Now that’s the type of man you’d like your daughter to bring home. I was reminded of Walter Raleigh laying down his coat, sorta.
Liz attracts the attentions of Mallard Glover, a huntsman prowling the wetlands with his shotgun. In one moment of madness, a badly frightened Glover, having just escaped the monster, is left alone with Liz in the bunkhouse while Gavin and the professor go out to investigate. Liz falls asleep, and… oh my, as George Takei would say.
“You knew where you stood with the mud monster.”
It plays out like a sleazy creature feature, even down to the gratuitous T and A. At one point, Liz has to run for her life through the swamp, but happens to lose her blouse in the process. I can see how that one would work on-screen, but it seems curious given that, well, you can’t see the poor lass’s breasts on a page, and they aren’t lovingly described for us, either. I could understand if Smith had a painterly eye, and wanted to detail a woman’s body - even for shamelessly erotic purposes - in the same way as Botticelli or Leonardo or Toulouse Lautrec. But he doesn’t. Whoops, she lost her top. Peek-a-boo! It’s anti-erotic.
In mitigation, this is apace with British culture in the 1970s, when Robin Asquith’s cheeky face could be seen on movie screens, gurning his way through any number of misunderstandings, double entendres and gaps in the curtains. At least Liz enjoys sex with Gavin and their feelings for each other grow; the narrative doesn’t punish her for love.
“Take me, Gavin! Take me like every woman wants her man!”
That said, Smith has a much keener eye for the fine grain of violence, and his monster makes an absolute mess of whoever crosses its path. It has a taste for guts, brains and bone marrow, and Smith accounts for just about every drop of blood spilled. When the slime beast invades the nearby village, the military get involved, too – tanks and everything! – setting up the perfect B-movie finale.
Like Night of the Werewolf, I can’t recommend this book unless, like me, you have a weakness for nasty, cheesy stuff that you probably shouldn’t admit to. As one of the monster’s victims might consider in their last moments before dismemberment, at least it’s over quickly.