An entomologist’s plane goes down in a national park, releasing giant centipedes into rural America. The arthropods are aggressive, numerous, and venomous, attacking animals and people alike.
A cast of characters including a small-town sheriff, a (different) entomologist and a seedy trucker find themselves locked in an unexpected and desperate battle for survival.
Death Crawlers picks a relatively original monster, which is nice – Amazon is rather too full of megalodon stories, and it’s good to have a change. As far as I can remember, I haven’t read a book with monstrous centipedes in it before, and it’s a good choice – they are truly horrifying and alien things.
Another strength is the cast of characters. There’s a set of major ones, enough so that no one is fully central (and therefore plot-armoured), but not so many that they blend into one another. Having characters the reader can care a bit about but not too much is key to monster stories.
The biggest weakness of the book, to my mind, is the detail. Normally, I criticise books for not being detailed enough, but Death Crawlers has the opposite problem. It’s extremely, exhaustively detailed, but in the wrong places. A centipede attack on a major character is covered in a few lines, but the mechanical act of eating at a diner is comprehensively laid out, moment by moment. No scene needs quite that much detail, and the scenes that do require more detail are the plot- and tension-critical ones – the first sight of the monster, the first death, etc. The misplaced focus means that the book has a somewhat jerky pace, alternately dragging and then rushing.
Suspension of disbelief is incredibly important in monster stories. You’re asking the reader to credit the existence of a giant aggressive predator that has somehow managed to hide for centuries. That’s a difficult hurdle to get over, which means that the rest of the book has to be much more grounded. One of the ways that an awful lot of monster books fail is the human response.
The humans in Death Crawlers don’t respond to a centipede invasion in ways that seem reasonable to me. People who have seen the monsters themselves fail to take basic precautions – they run through long grass or crawl into dark spaces despite how foolish that is. And even once there are multiple half-eaten corpses, the authorities are incredibly slow to do anything. I’m not saying that responses to the crisis have to be effective, but they should be present, and meet a certain baseline standard.
There are several things to like about Death Crawlers. The concept, the setting, the characters. But there are big structural issues, in where the prose is concentrated and in how the plot unfolds. It’s a shame, because a few specific changes would make it a much better book.