on 8 October 2014
Werewolves and vampires have, for want of a better phrase, 'fallen in stock' over the past decade. There's a variety of reasons for this - I won't go into them here - but needless to say, it's always fresh and exciting when someone pumps new blood, no pun intended, into either genre. Vampires - step aside, we're talking about werewolves for this review. For me, Lycanthropes take me back to my childhood. Movies such as The Howling and An American Werewolf in London - references are forthcoming - scared me witless. They proved horror can be simple yet terrifying at the same time. After all, a werewolf is nothing more than a huge dog gone bonkers, right?
We'll get to that in due course.
High Moor is a revelation. Told over a timespan of twenty-two years, it details the events of a small town, High Moor, which is rocked by several brutal murders at the hands - or claws - of a large animal. The police are clueless, the local kids terrified. After several sightings, one of the kids moves away from town, but is forced to face his demons twenty-two years later when the animal resurfaces. To say much else, would ruin the intricate, well-written plot.
Werewolves are anything but large dogs with a case of the rage. They are humans who turn into wolves on a full moon - normally. Most readers will already know this. That's where High Moor becomes interesting and refreshingly original. Reynolds switches the story up a notch by introducing different species of werewolf, those who battle against one another and even those who follow a sketchy, moral code. Where the plot could be quite linear - stay in on a full moon, job done, you survive -, Reynolds has just torn down the standard genre walls. Day walking werewolves, those who can change at will...it doesn't bode well for the humans around them. This lends the book a terrifying new angle, one that keeps you turning the pages until the thrilling finale.
The characters are vivid and realistic. Our central characters are a bunch of kids residing in High Moor, whose lives are changed forever by the arrival of the creatures. Their interactions are so typically British and authentic, I felt like I was reliving my youth. True, I never came face to terrified sprinting backside with a werewolf during my childhood, but the banter, chit chat, activities, and general interaction rang true to me. It brought the characters to life and created a humble, realistic setting in which to set the story. When the wolves aren't around, it was like reading The Body (Stand By Me) mashed with It, minus any unwelcome clowns or dead bodies...okay, maybe not the latter.
Then there are the adults. We have the avid werewolf hunter, the hero of the piece with a dark past, the police officer who goes against his orders to help the town, and the unsuspecting parents and locals. Everyone is detailed enough to play a part - the resident bullies are scarily authentic - and none are forced or mere talking heads. Reynolds creates a real tight-knit community within his prose, one that you could almost taste and smell as you immerse yourself in the lavish story. His wonderful characters, with rich, detailed back stories blend effortlessly with the beasts of the piece. People may die, oh yes, but we feel for them, mourn them. There's no cannon fodder here, everyone and anyone is potential prey, but you'll grow to love or hate them first. Which leaves us...
The werewolves are absolutely phenomenal. Terrifying, near invincible and mostly unseen. They could strike at any moment, anywhere...which they do, several times, in a variety of gory, blood-soaked ways. Graeme Reynolds has done for the written werewolf what Rick Baker did for the visual werewolf back in 1981. He's created a monster. When the first transformation happens, your mouth will hit the floor. When the wolves first appear, you'll feel the prickly goosebumps. In fact, I haven't been this enthralled by a wolf since David chased that poor commuter through Tottenham Court Road tube station in An American Werewolf in London. References you don't get, maybe, but the pure horror involved is astounding. I have included a link below for those unknowing folks who read this, but it will give you a brief idea of how it feels to read this book. Terrifying, darkly funny in places, horrifically graphic, but overall, taut and thrilling.
5 stars? No doubt about it. This book just leapt into my top three reads of 2014. Dragging werewolves clawing and biting into the 21st century, Reynolds has created a franchise that is not only British at heart, but universally enjoyable for everyone. Horror fans should add this book to their list right now. High Moor is a master-class in old school horror, written for an ageless audience. An instant classic.
An American Werewolf in London. "I can assure you that is not in the least bit amusing..." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ss0nT...