What do you get when mankind’s oldest profession meets mankind’s oldest enemy? In Donald Thompson’s novel from 1979, you get a little bit of sex, a little bit of creepy crawly action and a whole lot of exclamation marks.
Like all great novels, The Ancient Enemy begins with a naked woman standing by the roadside. But in this case, there isn’t anything sexy about her. Mostly, she looks like a peeled orange—“raw flesh from head to foot.”
Despite being flayed and catatonic, she helps lead a rescue party to Eros Ranch, a popular brothel 80 miles outside of Las Vegas. The situation at the ranch is unnerving to say the least. Neither Hieronymus Bosch nor Gustave Doré could have created a scene of such eerie silence, distorted color and horror. “The grounds resembled a butcher shop,” notes the author. “If the Angel of Death had lifted his fist, the judgment would not have been more brutal.”
Dead excoriated bodies were strewn everywhere. The women and men (some still frozen in coitus) all died from traumatic asphyxia. Every natural orifice was stuffed with cockroaches: throats, mouths, ears, eyes, anuses and vulvae.
When the killer cockroaches return to Eros Ranch that night they resemble “the inky, fetid tide of the river Styx rising in a wave of utter blackness.” That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? The only way the rescue team can survive the onslaught is to lock themselves in a refrigerated kitchen pantry filled with a bunch of dead bodies. Things only get worse when a rowdy motorcycle gang arrives the next morning.
Even though he raises the question repeatedly, the author never gets around to explaining why the desert cockroaches are on the warpath. I’m not sure an explanation is necessary though. For Thompson, it’s enough to simply let the bugs erupt Krakatoa-like from the earth.
Two nights of sexual titillation and biker roguery punctuate the cockroach invasion. To escalate the situation even further, the author throws a non-stop barrage of exclamation marks at the reader. There are entire paragraphs in this book completely dedicated to the shout-y punctuation tag.
But whatever. I’m willing to give The Ancient Enemy a little slack. Cockroaches are nasty and they’ve been around for 250,000 years. When you think about it, they’re probably the only enemy mankind has never defeated. If the author wants to overuse the exclamation mark, it’s OK with me.
[The Ancient Enemy / By Donald Thompson / First Printing: August 1979 / ISBN: 9780449142165]