Regular readers of David Morrell expect a crisp writing style, brisk pacing, and above all, relentless action. Morrell delivers once again with The Totem, but this time there are elements of the classic horror story mixed in with the thrills. The residents of Potters Field, Wyoming, have fallen under the attack of wild animals that kill on sight, mutilating their prey. They hunt in packs, and their shadowed forms can be glimpsed running through the night forests, howling at the moon. Police Chief Nathan Slaughter soon discovers that these feral beasts are not animals at all, but the townspeople themselves. A new virus is loose in Potters Field, not entirely unlike rabies, that gives control back to a previously dormant area of the brain, in effect transforming men and women into the primal creature mankind was hundred of thousands of years ago. Morrell's writing is as clean and tense as always, yet the book does not live up to its horror billing. Action dominates, and while the author's take on the origins of the werewolf mythology serves to deepen the theme of the book, the horror elements are only a faint undercurrent in what is essentially an action/adventure tale.
I first read this book back in the early 90's and too be honest, I could not recall much of it (I was young at the time :).
I re-purchased this on Kindle and have been treat to a revised version of the original story which made for an interesting read. The Kindle version contains both books - the longer original version, which Morrell was asked to condense by his publisher, which is about 75% of the file, and also the much shorter published version the other 25% of the file.
The characterisation is spot on as usual and Morrell crafts some wonderfully creepy and disturbing images and a likeable lead. It is billed as a horror story but in a time where we get zombie shows on TV, it's not really that horrific. The longer version was re-worked, by my understanding, in the mid-90's and there are some efforts made to bring it more up to date but it still feels like an old school 70's/80's story (which isnt a bad thing). I personally enjoyed the book; the virus outbreak is handled very well and the reasoning behind the effects it has on the infected are also rang true. There's a solid mystery and resolution too - another great book from Mr Morrell
The Totem (1979) is a horror novel by David Morrell, author of First Blood (1972). It is set in the small Wyoming township of Potter's Field. The main character, Sheriff Slaughter, who is investigating a spate of unusual murders and acts of violence that appear to be linked to a virus not dissimilar to rabies. Corpses are reanimated. Kids attack their parents. A camper is discovered mutilated. Slaughter investigates the happening with an alcoholic journalist and discovers that the usually quiet town has hidden a dark secret from ten years previous. The secret is now coming back to haunt them from the mountains that surround Potter's Field. Fiends, part-animal, part man. It is up to Slaughter to save the town and its inhabitants. This Headline hardcover and paperback is the unexpurgated version, published in 1994, and my second favourite Morrell novel after First Blood. I'm surprised this one has not been filmed. This version also contains an introduction by the author.
Anyone who has read any of David Morrell's novels will certainly appreciate this one. The tale evolves as an intelligent, thriller and action story with a little pinch of horror thrown in. His imagery is some of the best in this genre. The only author, in my opinion, who even comes close is Trevanian. Picture an isolated valley that comes alive at night with bizarre happenings, that culminate in an amazing hunt for creatures with human like intelligence--you will not want to put it down! I read the book a long time ago, and to this day still have vivid recollections. Enjoy