Published in 1977, sometimes attributed to Shelley and Paul Katz, but more often just Shelley, now thoroughly out of print, Alligator is one of the bazillion killer creature novels to emerge after the success of Jaws (1974). Unlike other rip-offs, however, this one is actually good. Unexpectedly, almost shockingly good.
The first chapter is ablaze with rich characterization, ominous Everglades atmosphere, and the chomps we paid for. Then there’s about 75 pages of rubbish. But then, holy shit, the excess characters thin out and we’re left with two guys battling the elements, an evil alligator, and their own hyper masculinity.
Through a fairly mainstream adventure lens, Katz eventually raises this story to a literary level with perfect pacing and a sprinkling of symbolism. As death hangs in the air, the men are stripped raw and slowly reveal themselves at a core, almost pre-historic level. We wonder, in a Frankensteinian way, who really is the alligator. Is it a monstrous reptile they hunt, or something personal?
You can imagine my immense delight when mere hints of homoeroticism become substaniated.
Although this book was presumably popular in its day (my edition has a sticker boasting “over 600,000 sold!”) now it’s only possible to find tattered used copies sold at a premium. Worth hunting down, however, if you’re ever in the mood for a little enrichment with your creature feature.