Our tale of terror begins with a short prologue that pretty economically sets up the threat. Ornery truck driver Josh Gatlin is driving along a rural New Mexican highway in the middle of nowhere and trying without success to light a cigarette. His matches won't cooperate. As he struggles to light a smoke, he ruminates on a couple of things, as long haul truckers are prone to doing on the lonely roads. Firstly there's the fact his boss, Sánchez, wants him and his top secret cargo in Albuquerque. And as soon possible! Like yesterday! Gatlin can't fathom what's so dang important that they need it in Albuquerque that quickly! But the heck with that! Much more important, besides his increasingly futile attempts to light his cigarette, anyway, are thoughts of his girlfriend Juanita in Santa Fe. As he strikes another match, he decides that after he's through delivering Sánchez's order, he'll swing by Santa Fe for a little wham-bam, thank-you-ma'am with Juanita.
But it turns out that distracted driving, especially at night, is a bad thing, and Gatlin's efforts to get his smoke lit while also thinking about Juanita instead of focusing on the dang road causes him to lose control of the truck. The vehicle careens off the road and into a cow pasture. No mention of whether it was a left or right turn (get it? I'll hit myself now...). Gatlin survives the crash but the truck has overturned and the back has come open, and it turns out the secret cargo he was carrying was flies! Lots of them! A thick black cloud of the things promptly attack the nearest unfortunate cows as a helpless Gatlin watches from his upside-down position in the cab. As he struggles to get the door open and free himself, the insects finish with their meal of raw beef and then decide to have truck driver dessert and the swarm descends upon the truck.
Young Pammy Quinn is home alone with her dog Skeets coloring with Crayola crayons waiting for her mother to return when she decides to go and check on her favorite pony Rosebud, only to discover that he's become a victim of the titular menace, damn near stripped clean to the bone. The poor kid barely has time to mourn the pony's demise before the swarm returns, having sensed "sweet flesh," and Pammy becomes the novel's second human victim in short order. Dang. We're not even two chapters in and already a child has been horrifically killed. Kendall's not playing around. He doesn't kill the dog, though. The kid, sure. But not the dog. Skeets survives. For now.
Sometime later, Sherry Quinn and her (I guess?) boyfriend Hutch Engels return from an errand, arguing about whether or not it's okay to teach little Pammy to ride, little realizing that the point is entirely moot. Hutch, your typical rough and tough ranch hand kinda dude, is all in favor of teaching the kid to ride a horse, while overprotective Sherry is against it. The two find the Quinn house eerily deserted except for a piteously howling Skeets. Sensing trouble, they go looking for Pammy only to find what's left of her and Rosebud the pony under the tree out in the yard. Sherry's grief is palpable, while Hutch cries for the first time since he was a boy.
Later, at the hospital, the two are talking to Captain Ray Padilla of the New Mexico State Police. There's a little bit of mild racism here, as the Mexican-American Padilla is described as having the "disdain for strong and determined women all Chicanos have" when confronted with a very upset Sherry who doesn't believe his theory that Pammy was killed by wild dogs, and he forcibly talks down to the grieving mother who dares question him as a result. In Kendall's defense, this scene is mostly told from Hutch Engels' point of view, so it's entirely possible that this stereotype of Hispanic men is one he holds, not the author. Anyway, Hutch backs Sherry up, insisting that he's seen wild dog attacks and that there weren't any bite canine bite marks on her body. Great, another horror novel with stupid cops. Somehow I just know poor Skeets is getting blamed for this.
Wild dogs, my left foot! Yeah, sure, Captain. A pack of wild dogs ate Pammy, her pony and then they also ate an entire herd of cows and overturned a semi truck and ate the driver. Speaking of which, no mention of them finding Gatlin's crashed truck yet.
We'll have to see what the autopsy shows, assuming Sherry isn't one of those people who stupidly doesn't want one performed (although I can't think of why else they'd be at the hospital). But we know the truth! It was the flies! The Killer Flies!
It turns out that Sherry does want an autopsy performed. Or at least that she wants to see the results. Dr. Meadows has to deal with her yelling to inform her that he can't release Pam's body for the funeral until the medical examiner has signed off on the autopsy. This prompts Sherry to demand why they even need one, considering Captain Padilla just told her it was an animal attack. I understand that she's grieving, and that she feels like she's being stonewalled, but I'm unsure yelling at the doctor and the police captain is going to help much. The tired, overworked Meadows can only mumble something about protocol, sending Sherry and Hutch away with a flea in their ear. Or is that a fly?
The two go to see the Quinns' family friend Kathy Littlebird, who despite her Native American-sounding surname is apparently of Czech descent (!). Or maybe it's Sherry who is of Czech descent. Kendall is a little unclear somehow. In any case we get a few more ethnic stereotypes. Just as Mexican-Americans don't like strong, independent women, Czech-Americans are hardworking and loyal. Who Kathy is, exactly, beyond a family friend I'm unsure. She's got an office somewhere. Perhaps a reporter or a private investigator? She hunts around for an errant sandwich as Sherry complains about the fact they won't release her dead daughter. "They" meaning specifically "Padilla and his goon squad."
There's some vague allegations of corruption (or at least abuse of power and general jackassery) against Captain Padilla here, complete with Kathy insisting, as she finally locates that darn sandwich, that the State Troopers would break her legs if she tried to look at the autopsy report. I sure hope that's hyperbole!
Why are the State Troopers handling a local death investigation, anyway? Aren't there any county or city cops?
We get a little backstory about how Kathy met the Quinns a few years ago and became good friends with them, when Sherry's husband Tom was still alive. Alas, Tom Quinn has since passed away from cancer, leaving his widow to raise their daughter alone. And now this awful mess. Dang. I can understand Sherry's directionless rage all of a sudden. First her husband dies from cancer, then her daughter is killed by God-knows-what, and the best the dunderheaded cops can do is halfheartedly commit to "It was an animal attack." No wonder she's mad.
As Sherry and Hutch leave Kathy's office, Kathy notices a single fly land on the sandwich. Disgusted, she decides she wasn't hungry anyway and pitches it. What a waste of a good sandwich! All because of one little fly! Phooey! Still, it's a fun little way to end the scene on a slightly ominous note.
Meanwhile, Debby Watkins drives up to the Big Chief Truck Stop for her shift as the cook. She's that kind of big but proud, fun woman who wears a little too much makeup, laughs a little too loud, and drives a loud, fast car (a Mustang in this case) and in general is somehow lovable despite being kind of annoying. She probably calls everyone "sugar," "doll" and/or "darlin'." She's dating a truck driver named Ralph Tibbets who she communicates with via CB radio and calls Big Daddy. As she's getting ready for work, Big Daddy calls her on said radio to tell her he's driving down that route and is definitely stoppin' in, causing Debby to have some pretty fond memories of that one time she and Ralph did the hanky-panky in the sleeper cab of his truck...
She has to hang up, though, as her first customer, a local guy named Manuel, comes in. Besides, Ralph will be there in just a few minutes anyway. There's a few flies around and they get in through the door when he enters before it shuts. But neither he nor Debby pay it much mind. Apparently the flies overheard Josh Gatlin talking about how good the grub was here. He ribs her about burning his order of eggs as more and more flies begin to descend upon the Big Chief Truck Stop's diner, with more and more arriving with each batch of customers, until by the time Ralph "Big Daddy" Tibbets and his big stupid cowboy hat show up and enter, the place is absolutely swarming with them. Manuel, Debby, Big Daddy and everyone else all have just enough time to cry out in alarm before the swarm descends and the feasting begins...
I am enjoying your read-through of Killer Flies, Mr K. Just looking at ABE. there's only one copy available there for the princely sum of £161 + P&P. Amazon have a copy for £95 + P&P. I am guessing this title was only published in the USA. With the popularity of Kindle, I suppose that it is possible that titles like this one might make it onto ebook readers so that those interested can read it without having to pay that much. Childmare by Nick Sharman, which has also commanded high prices, is now on Kindle for just over £3, so maybe there is hope for books like Killer Flies.
And, yeah, as far as I'm aware, Killer Fliesis 100% American. Here's hoping it, and a great many of the other books we all cherish so much, do wind up on Kindle in the future. Post reprint of Slimer and The Fungus, complete with audio book versions, anything is possible. I mean, we recently got a German reprint of Eat Them Alive! We're in uncharted waters here.