Stephen Gilbert – Willard
Posted by demonik on August 12, 2007
Stephen Gilbert – Willard (Panther, 1971, originally Michael Joseph, 1968 as “Ratman’s Notebooks“)
The narrator (unidentified) is a clerk in the company founded by his late father which now belongs to former employee Mr. Jones. Nagged by his ailing mother and shunned by girls, the lonely outcast begins to train a colony of rats his mother has ordered him to destroy before they infest the property. Fortunately, the old girl hasn’t got long to go and, shortly before her death, Ratman sends eight of his fast expanding army on a mission to bite through the tyres of Jones’ car after the skinflint “usurper” refuses him a wage rise.
Once his mother is consigned to the soil, the raids become more ambitious. Led by Socrates – the most devoted and responsive rodent – they rob the Malcolmson’s place and the lady of the house informs the press of her encounter with “a rat the size of a man”. This prompts our hero to dig out a theatrical mask to wear on future missions. All goes well until Socrates is killed and a new leader emerges. Ben – as eulogised by Michael Jackson in one of his creepiest love songs – has dominion over all the rats and can apparently read. He bugs the narrator out something terrible and, once they’ve murdered his worst enemy, he abandons them at the scene of the crime. He’s going to start a new life, enjoy his recent inheritance, marry the girl and … Oh. Maybe Ben doesn’t like the idea of that too much.
There’s something about this novel that strikes me as very “Best of Pan Horror Stories” circa ‘67-70, and it certainly screams “Film me!”. Offsetting the murders and mayhem are episodes of macabre humour and heartbreaking sadness as, having found happiness for the first time in a wretched, downtrodden, lonely existence, the clerk watches helpless as his best friend is killed and then finds himself usurped all over again.