This book was part of a number I picked up when helping my daughter no 2 decorate her new flat. Having not read anything by Guy N Smith before (living in the UK...not having read anything by Guy N Smith...where have I been!) I was eager to jump right into this fine example of late 70/80s horror. I was a great fan of Herbert and King during this period and indeed I remember reading The Rats on a beach in Greece in the 70s when I was young free and single...and of course beautiful!! The first thing that strikes the avid horror reader about books of that period is the art work and the cover....quite often the books were rubbish but the covers were fantastic and helped undoubtedly sell the material. Thirst has a fantastic cover (1980 edition) with a reservoir in the distance...where all the weed killer was deposited (see later) fronted by a screaming woman whose face is adorned with various sores and abnormalities. In the distance the sun is setting creating a red and cruel sky.....come on admit it...you want to read it!!
Mel Timberley is transporting a dangerous volatile tanker full of weed killer and unfortunately his mind is elsewhere. I just loved the opening paragraph it really drew me in...”The tanker lumbered through the night, its erratic passage reflecting the mood of its driver – angry; punishing the engine on stretches of straight road, torturing brakes and tyres on the bends” So with Mel reflecting on his troubles he is not concentrating on his driving and the responsibility of such a dangerous cargo....the inevitable happens and the toxic week killer ends its journey unfortunately in a reservoir that is the main water feed for the good people of Birmingham.
As with all good horror we meet an interesting cross section of the population and enjoy the spectacle of how they cope when drinking the offending water supply. At 200+ pages the story is short ( I always feel this is a great attribute in horror novels of this type as there is only so many ways an unsuspecting populace can meet its demise) Characters are introduced to the reader only to quickly disappear as they come into contact with the deadly water supply.
One character of note is Benny Wilkes living a life full of wasted opportunities under the watchful eye of a weak mother and a dominating father, Thomas Wilkes, who insists his son follow a nice safe career in banking. One day Benny decides to alter the brakes on his father’s car, leading to Thomas Wilkes demise expertly hidden under all the turmoil happening in a city under seize due to the contaminated water.
All stories must have a hero and I suppose Ron Blythe fits that model perfectly especially as he was the scientist behind the production of the week killer and therefore morally responsible. Ron has a wondering eye for the ladies and has had many affairs with younger more attractive women (well why shouldn’t he...Margaret was beautiful once but age has caught with her...a somewhat chauvinistic attitude!) The city of Brimingham is declared an emergency zone with rampaging looting gangs and inhabitants dying.....the world is crying out for a hero... step up to centre stage Ron. Ron attempts to break out of the fenced emergency zone with the beautiful Carol Evans (someone had to rescue her...why not Ron!) Ron loves Carol...Carol loves Ron...bye bye Margaret!! A bulldozer and an escaped convict, Mike Cummins, help our heroes breach the barriers and head for freedom...is all well with the world? There is a nice unexpected conclusion which leads to a satisfactory ending.
I enjoyed the first half of Thirst, meeting all the characters both good and bad and watching the carnage unfold but I felt the second half was a somewhat wasted opportunity descending into anarchy as a once proud city became the battle ground for warring gangs and wannabe soldiers. So in conclusion a fine example of horror of a certain age, not a work of great imagination but a fun way to spend an afternoon.