The Fog by James Herbert (1975)
James Herbert's second novel covers much the same ground as his first, The Rats. It's a disaster novel, but this time the disaster is a far wider and more diverse one, eventually destroying much of Southern England.
The Fog starts as a contes cruel and gives a wide range of characters, most of whom the reader could fell good about -- a young brother and sister eating candy before school, a friendly postman, a vicar enjoying his early morning walk, a bus full of schoolchildren, and so on -- before pulling the rug out as we see these characters die or go mad.
John Holman is an investigator for England's Department of the Environment. As he returns from an assignment, and just as he is entering the small village of Wiltshire, the ground opens up, giving forth to a large crevise that swallows half the village, taking Holman and his car with it. The abyss is deep, seemingly endless, but the wall of the crevise is somewhat angled and Holman's car is precariously caught some thirty feet below the surface. Also surviving on a small ledge is a little girl who appears to be in shock. Holman manages to get to the girl as a strange yellow fog begins to rise out of the depths. As Holman ties to climb to safety with the girl, the fog envelops them.
The next thing Holman remembers is waking up in a hospital a few days later. He had climbed out of the pit completely and violently insane. The insanity seemed to have passed over time and within a week he was cleared to leave the hospital. Why the madness left him was a mystery.
Others touched by the fog were not as lucky, all going mad. In many cases people were homicidal, in others, suicidal. An entire seaside town of over a hundred thousand committed mass suicide, walking into the ocean. A poacher slaughters an entire household before severing his own limbs with an axe. A quiet man quietly decapitates his devoted wife. At a private school, children torture a teacher before turning on each other as the school burns around them. The fog does not affect just people: a herd of cows trample a farmer, a pigeon fancier is pecked to death by his birds, a lonely cat lady is mutilated by her pets...
And the fog is getting bigger...and it may have intelligence of a sort...and in it's depths lay more horror...
Holman, the only known survivor of the fog, is swept into the govenment's halting efforts to both understand and eradicate the fog, putting him at risk numerous times. As the fog moves toward, and then swallows, London, Holman escapes death again and again, often by luck or by deus ex machina.
The Fog is a novel that straddles the line between grand guignol and fast-paced thriller. The author would grow to be one of England's premiere horror writers, being presented with an OBE and being named a Grand Master by the World Horror Convention.
There's something very pulpish and entertaining about Herbert's early work. When James Herbert died in 2013, Stephen King said, "Herbert was by no means literary, but his work has a raw urgency. His best novels, The Rats and The Fog, had the effect of Mike Tyson in his champioship days, no finesse, all crude power. These books were best-seller because many readers (including me) were too horrified to put them down."
For all its faults, I enjoyed the book and its thundering pace. Your mileage may vary.