Werewolves have had a lot of makeovers over the decades. I think every animalistic aspect has been explored, and just about every deviation from the conventional wisdom of the myth has been explored too. And while I have heard of this particular method of propagation used for vampire fiction, this is the first novel I've seen treat werewolves as the result of a sexually transmitted disease.
Don't worry, I didn't spoil this book for you by revealing how the werewolves are created. Really, that's just the beginning to this tale. Still, that's a heck of a thing to keep in mind as the novel's heroes are introduced, as one of them carries some residual trauma from being raped and tortured by vampires. Imagine what goes through her head when she learns her next assignment involves werewolves that rape as well as kill.
Gavin Keoph and Karen Moffett are private investigators under the employ of an eccentric and highly successful horror novelist, Martin Burgess. The caseload involves the supernatural and they've got the scars to prove it. Despite their hesitance about tangling with potentially life threatening creatures again, they head to Big Rock, California, where repeated animal attacks and bizarre disappearances have peaked Burgess' interest.
The story isn't told solely through the eyes of Gavin and Karen, however, as there is a wide cast of characters that Garton manages to use as view pieces in the course of the story. There's Bob, the thirty-something Seventh Day Adventist who lives under the thumb of his widowed mother and grandmother--shy, repressed, and absolutely terrified of the world thanks to the religious zealotry of his family. There's Dr. Abe Dinescu and his rising suspicion about the recurring animal attacks and apparent ignorance to the danger by many of the residents of Big Rock. And even Sheriff Taggert, the lead villain in the tale as he slowly but surely sows his seeds of infiltration throughout the community in order to take it over and unleash his ultimate discovery about the next step for all werewolves.
This story is packed and fast-paced, so much so that I was worried halfway through it would wind up as a cliffhanger. It's a stand alone, however, despite a couple allusions to a follow-up novel sometime down the line. For me though, there was the fact that this was my first Ray Garton novel. Bestial is a sequel to another werewolf novel set around Big Rock called Ravenous, and is even a sequel of sorts to one of Garton's vampire novels, Night Life, which featured Keoph and Moffett investigating the bloodsuckers.
That's not really a hindrance, thankfully, as the necessary backstory is laid out in this novel quite nicely for folks like me. With only a couple of pages that felt like characters were speaking more for my benefit than their own, I thought the whole universe Garton created was believable enough to feel the gruesome consequences of what was happening.
One part I found a bit underwhelming came at the end of the novel when the proverbial gun that's introduced in the first act arrives to do what guns do best. I expected something different, and while the outcome had its own level of satisfaction for me, I still expected something less--what's the word I'm looking for--"gung ho"? Bah, I won't go into detail and spoil it, and it's likely other readers have a different reaction to it. And it doesn't rob from the story as a whole.
The story is bloody and brutal, with few instances when we're turned away from the violence. It's action-packed and provides a fair amount of suspense in spite of the mystery about the werewolves being revealed relatively early. I think I'm going to have to look up Ravenous just to see what else Garton has done when it comes to werewolves, not to mention my interest in his take on vampires as well with Live Girls and subsequent novels. In due time, in due time.
If you like horror and/or werewolves, give this novel a shot. If the prologue doesn't compel you to keep reading, then I don't know what to tell you. It hooked me.