PS: I started to read this as a Kindle version but then HAD to switch to the real thing, so bought a hard copy. With the old school nature of the story, and the many references and homages to 1970s & 1980s horror, it seemed like the right thing to do!
Wherewolves is a powerful tale of menace and social commentary, with dark humor and clever plotting that keeps the reader knotted in its tight spiral of teen angst mixed with horror film imagery. On the surface it is a teen-in-peril tale, but the writing of the characters, the nature of the peril, and the narrative twists makes it surprising, exciting, and inventive. Characters jump off the page as vivid personifications of troubled teens caught between hormonal change, vice-like parental pressure, and the possibility of chemically induced monsters lurking in the proverbial woods. The best horror stories leave the reader with palpable frissons; this is always the ultimate aim of a good horror story: to strike uncertainty and fear in the reader; but many of these best examples also use the monster to reflect a subtext of social, cultural or political allegory. Wherewolves scores points on both these levels by appeasing the demands of a good horror story (with a bloody finale that is not for the squeamish) but also layering the `monster’ (as a metaphorical `beast within’) to bear the weight of social commentary on a wide range of themes: the deadly consequences of drug use; the dangers of unchecked military psychological & physiological training; the burdensome pressures of unrealistic parental expectation and lack of parental guidance. Wherewolves is a novel that rewards multiple readings, with elements of its plot twists embedded in descriptive details and foreshadowed through dialogue and narrational point of view. The story begins with a bang, in medias res, chaos in the woods, a prey and a victim. The young woman, Dilly is being chased through the woods by something feral, monstrous, dangerous, and animal-like. Like Sally from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, she is rescued by a truck driver, Drew, who battles with her against the unseen force. Once nearing safety, the state troopers arrive on the scene to help Drew and Dilly, but mysteriously, Dilly has disappeared….only to return much later as a key character. Here we see one of the strengths of the writing: the play with appearance and reality, as characters and situations, including the ultimate nature of the beast, end up not being what they appear. Here Dilly appears as a victim, chased by the `monster,’ but with the gain of hindsight, is anything but a victim. The lightning paced opening ends with the force of a blunt object: Drew and the troopers arrive at a diner, where chaos seems to be brewing on the inside; the outside of the diner window covered by the inside shades and thickly splattered blood. A crowd of media and police gather outside, plotting the best way to enter the troubled diner. And then we are left to hang, as the story cuts back in time, methodically churning its way back to the beginning, to Dilly running, and eventually returning to the bloody mayhem inside the tragic diner, in classic A-B-A non-linear structure. At this point the novel spends the next chunk of story time developing the many young protagonists (you may want to write them down to keep track of whose who), and then the story shifts into nervy energy overload when it arrives at the ex-soldier teacher Tim O’Sullivan’s planned weekend survival retreat, designed to `toughen’ the kids up to be military `worthy’. Tim leaves the kids stranded to fend for themselves (as his Dad did to him years earlier) but instead of your usual survival agenda there is something mean, vicious and fascinatingly mysterious lurking in the woods, encircling the teens who themselves are becoming unstable. The reader learns of several twists concerning why Tim leaves and to where (without giving away much, he remains as a distanced observer of a scenario gone horribly wrong). What makes this a particularly inventive take on the werewolf lore is the nature of the beast. The writers manage to have their cake and eat it by offering us the violence and ferociousness of the traditional werewolf, but tinged with a realist edge that strives for social commentary with a lexicon of youthful argot that is a mix of street slang and made-up language, a la `Clockwork Orange’. Wherewolves is a novel to savor quickly the first time, and slowly the second.