Wednesday, 13 November 2019


1985 Sphere edition
Author: Peter Tremayne (aka Peter Berresford Ellis)
First Published: 1984
File size/Pages: 1149KB / 192pp
Ebook Publisher: Endeavour Venture
Ebook Date: July 2017

Disclaimer: I have the Sphere paperback version (pictured left) of this novel, so did not actually purchase the eBook).

Peter Berresford Ellis is most famous for his bestselling Sister Fidelma historical mystery series. But before he came up with his Celtic-Nun fictional detective, Ellis wrote a number of books in the thriller and horror genre using the pen-names of Peter MacAlan and Peter Tremayne respectively. Beginning in 1977 as Tremayne, he expanded the Dracula and Frankenstein mythos with books like The Hound of Frankenstein and Dracula Unbound. He progressed into his own creations with his most famous book of the seventies, The Ants (1979), and followed up with titles such as Zombie (1981), The Morgow Rises! (1982) and Snowbeast! (1983). As you may notice some of his novels during this time seemed to be trying to corner the market in the "book titles ending with an exclamation mark" category.

The full list of these (a nice little sub-category all of their own) are as follows;

  • The Morgow Rises!
  • Snowbeast!
  • Swamp!
  • Angelus!
  • Nicor!

Ellis was born in 1943, Coventry, UK. His father hailed from Ireland and was a journalist and his mother came from Sussex. Both sides of the family can trace their ancestry back to medieval times. This may account for Ellis's academic background and avid interest in Celtic studies, as well as his well-regarded work in the field of ancient languages. He is also keenly interested in popular culture and has published biographies of authors H. Rider Haggard and W. E. Johns.

By the time Swamp! was published Ellis (as Tremayne) was an old hand at writing in the horror genre. With eleven titles already behind him he had also delivered a fantasy sequence in the form of The Lan-Kern Trilogy, which utilized his specialist knowledge of Celtic myths and legends. Most of his books referenced him as the bestselling author of The Ants which goes to show much success he had had with that story.

It is evident when reading Swamp! that Ellis was, by then, accomplished and confident in his craft. The book oozes with the skill of a good story-teller who knows how to construct a plot. He handles multiple locations and characters with ease, never letting the story get confusing or allowing a character to dominate the limelight to the expense of others. His writing is clear, tight and pitched to the right level for the subject matter. His descriptions of the locale is just enough to place the reader in the scenes, but doesn't linger too long to become boring or frustrating.

The story of Swamp! takes place in the Everglades National Park, USA, by the waters of Chay-in-cuna - the Lake of the Dead (I presume this is a fictional location). The plot is pretty straightforward. A mysterious reptilian creature appears out of nowhere in the murky depths of the 'Glades and begins to wreck bloody havoc amongst the locals populace and unlucky visitors. The Park Rangers are first on the scene and begin to investigate the horror that is developing around them.

Ellis expertly uses a multiple perspective to tell his tale. There are at least five or more characters to follow, but two main characters bookend the story; Dean Michaels, an escaped convict, and Peter Pirelli, a Park Ranger. Both of these men are called into action to defend their life or protect their friends and colleagues.

Theses two are supported by other pitch-perfect characters such as Miccosukee Mike, a Seminole Indian Ranger; Ruiz Alvarez, Cuban fellow escapee; Big Bat Williams, owner of the local Diner; Rosita Kellino, waitress and Helen Greenwood legal secretary. All these people have their own time in the limelight and feel well rounded and real.

eBook cover
The location of the 'Glades and the town of Pawley's Folly add to the general atmosphere wonderfully and provide just enough setting to avoid everything getting too claustrophobic. Ellis is great at bouncing quickly between characters and locations without leaving you wondering what is going on.

The 'creature' is kept very much in the background. (This felt a bit like Steven Spielberg's treatment,  albeit famously forced through circumstance, of the shark from 'Jaws'). When it appears there is just a line or two of description.... "Something reared out of the was enormous and terrifying."

In some ways I'm reminded of the best of Stephen King when I reflect upon Swamp! and the way it is told. Ellis has the same knack of bouncing around the thoughts of his multiple characters that is always engaging and keeps you hooked in to their plight. Of course this story happens over a much shorter length than a lot of King's does but I was still reminded of that particular proficiency.

If I had to be critical, my only negative would be the way that Ellis deals with the creature in the finale. Although it was (at least in my own mind) quite cinematic, I couldn't help feeling a little bit short-changed. I won't spoil anything - but I was expecting something a little different. This is not to say that I didn't like the ending. I did. I actually thought the whole book was beautifully constructed and paced. Maybe I was projecting my own desires too much.

As you might realise by now, I really enjoyed Swamp! I may have discovered a new favourite author and I'm extremely pleased. It was a fantastic horror/action book. The cover to the Sphere edition is a tiny bit of a misdirect as the picture on it does not depict any scene from the plot. Also, it gives the impression of a much more horror-filled story than that contained within the pages. But I'll forgive them because otherwise I might not have picked this up and that's the whole point really isn't it.

Thoroughly satisfying, cleverly told, uncomplicated and engaging. Highly recommended.

The eBook costs £2.99, a steal.