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Jack Ramsay – The Rage

Posted by demonik on May 6, 2008

Jack Ramsay – The Rage (Sphere, 1977)

Jack Ramsey The Rage

It begins with a dull pain. It hits all the nerves until it reaches the brain. Then come the uncontrollable convulsions. Finally, gratefully, comes merciful death. This is rabies.

It began in the French countryside. A fox an a dog grappled, a man got bitten, fell sick, died.
The dog ended up next in the stables of the Count’s estate. Little Emma loved animals, and thought nothing of petting the dog. Her family thought nothing of bringing the dog back with them to their home in England.
And so began the epidemic that swept England… an epidemic of terrifying proportions as people and animals struggled in the convulsive death throes of rabies. Lambert Diggery refused to believe his daughter suffered from more than a virus, but when journalist Andrew Stern began to investigate the strange reports of illness, he learned that Diggery’s daughter had more than a virus… and that Diggery himself was much more than a well-paid civil servant. Stern himself, inveterate bachelor, perennial cynic, found his own world turned inside-out in his quest for the cause of the rabies. But when he put together all the pieces — of the story and of himself — it was too late. Time had run out.

I finished The Rage in about three hefty bites and thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems to me that, if you want to really simplify things, you can break these creature features down into two main categories: Those where the massed ranks of rats, cats, dogs, crows, maggots or crabs wage war on man and those where just a few infected beasts cause mayhem (Man-Eater, Bloodsnarl, etc.). Rage falls into the latter. Ramsay doesn’t do full blown gore either so the violent moments aren’t dwelt upon but don’t let that put you off. The late Charles L. Grant used to refer to his Shadows anthologies as “Quiet Horror” and I guess that makes Rage …. “Quiet Nasty”?

Another thing in Ramsay’s favour, he doesn’t hang about. We’re only two paragraphs in when the obligatory old tramp is disfigured by the diseased fox, although he has to spend a few days foaming at everybody before the author grants his merciful release. Apparently, a side-effect of rabies is that the infected fellow spends his last days in a state of permanent erection though I guess it’s not much consolation in the circumstances. None of the medical students want to know, that’s for sure. Fortunately, one of them sneaked in a camera to get a snap-shot of the dying man in all his spittle flecked, rotting brained agony and sold it to the French press to cause public hysteria. Now the news has reached London where hard-bitten hack and professional brooder Andrew Stern reckons there could be something in the story for him.

Senior Civil Servant Lambert Digby is being blackmailed by a shadowy figure over his meetings with Brussels prostitute Monique. He’s being forced to deliver brown envelopes to a lock up in London with no idea what they contain although he’s assured they pose no threat to national security. Obviously the last thing he needs just now is the press snooping too closely into his affairs but he reckons without his ten year old daughter, Emma. Holidaying with her parents in Etienne, she saves a dog from being shot and smuggles him back into the country but within days he’s bitten her and ran off into the wild to chase foxes. By the day of the hunt he’s infected two of them.

With Emma’s condition worsening, Digby learns that this laddish, well-connected Fleet Street journo Stern is on his case. Not only is he aware of the dalliance in Brussels but he’s picked up on a report of a short-lived rabies epidemic in the French countryside. Digby is desperate to convince everyone – including himself – that all this talk of “the rage” is just press hysteria, and his daughter’s death makes him keener than ever to kill the story. Meanwhile Stern and girlfriend Dorothy are rounding up dead animals and rodents for the boys in the lab to examine. Stern has contrived to contract the disease so there’s more than a screaming banner headline at stake ….

Plenty of boozing in this one, especially by those about to take the wheel of a car, and it’s accounted for one nasty death and Stern’s arrest for dog-napping Mr. Borman’s foaming dachshund, Cocky. Stern even has minor Vault credentials (“He had his books: science fiction, detective stories, thrillers”) and there are several topical references (“more trouble at Leylands, … new moves to curb soccer hooliganism”).

Thanks to Rog of Vault for providing the cover scan.

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