First published back in February of 1980, Guy N Smith’s pulp horror classic ‘Thirst’ was one of the earlier publications for this enormously prolific writer. The novel was later followed up with the sequel ‘Thirst II: The Plague’ (1987).
In the rural Welsh setting of Pontrhydfendigaid, Mel Timberley accidentally crashes a large tanker filled with deadly weedkiller into the Claerwen Reservoir. To make matters worse, the reservoir feeds into the water system for the whole of Birmingham. Not only that, but this is no ordinary weedkiller that has now contaminated the water supply for the city. What was being transported was super-strength weedkiller, with no known antidote if consumed accidentally. Mere contact with the product brings flesh out into pus filled ulcers, and consumption, however little, results in an unquenchable thirst, followed by madness and then ultimately death. Another disturbing property of the weedkiller is its highly flammable nature as well as its inability to dilute itself in large bodies of water (such as the reservoir).
Ron Blythe works for Weedspray Limited (the company responsible for the extra-strength weedkiller) as a research chemist. Upon learning of the tanker crash and the resulting contamination of the reservoir, Blythe does his best to warn the relevant authorities of the sheer levels of danger with what has occurred. Alas, Blythe’s warnings go ignored until it is too late and Birmingham’s water supply is fully contaminated by the deadly weedkiller. The residents of Birmingham are suddenly developing the first symptoms of the weedkiller poisoning after coming into contact with the water from their taps. An uncontrollable and unquenchable thirst is now plaguing the city. Within hours, madness has taken over many of the infected people. The hospitals and emergency services cannot cope with the sudden influx of casualties. Death like that during the times of the black plague sweeps over the streets of the highly-populated city. Riots, violence, anarchy and chaos ensue. The government employs the help of temporary soldiers in an attempt to bring some order to the streets. The result is even more mayhem and violence.
Drastic measures are taken in an attempt to isolate and control the situation. And in the middle of all the chaos is Ron Blythe, trying not only to survive, but also to highlight some vitally important information to the authorities. However, the looters, rioters, rapists and corrupt soldiers aren’t the only dangers within the sealed off city of Birmingham. The notorious axe murderer Mike Cummins is now at large, after escaping from Winson Green Prison. Together with fellow survivor Carol Evans, Blythe plans to get out of the city and away from the madness. But this is easier said than done...
Smith sets down the basic underlying principles for the story’s premise from the very outset, detailing the terrifying properties of the weedkiller and the results it has upon living animals, including humans. With the weedkiller now contaminating the reservoir that feeds into Birmingham’s water supply, Smith details an all-too-familiar uninterested and unconcerned reaction from the authorities, until it's too late.
From here, the pace of the novel starts to gain momentum, as more and more of Birmingham’s population go down with the illness. Smith portrays the horrifying thirst that grips those infected with the illness with uncompromising and graphically vivid descriptions of the terrifying madness that is consuming them. The epidemic escalates until finally the whole city is a mass of rioting and violent madness. Here Smith really piles in the bloodshed, wallowing the reader in the utter savagery witnessed on the streets of Birmingham. Each new page seems to bring on a litany of violence, with the body count piling up as the uncontrollable rage continues throughout the troubled city.
Smith tries to explain away the poor governmental involvement (or complete lack of), showing unbelievable and frankly unrealistic decisions being made and enforced. However, this is all played down within the tale and instead the brutality of the dilemma at hand is given the driving seat.
The characters are the typical partially developed mob that usually find their way into a Guy N Smith tale. Ron Blythe is an unlikely hero, with his unfaithful take on relationships and his utter hatred for his wife. However this adds an intriguing new level to the developing relationship between him and Carol Evans; giving a grittiness to the characters as well as to the incredibly pulpy nature of the storyline.
For sheer unadulterated violence and action packed savagery alone this novel is an absolute pulp classic. Although a number of heavy flaws are glaringly present within the storyline, this does not in any way deter from the enjoyment of reading such a wildly over-the-top piece of horror fiction.
The novel runs for a total of 219 pages.
© DLS Reviews