First published back in November of 2011, British author Graeme Reynolds’ debut novel ‘High Moor’ formed the first instalment in the author’s highly-claimed ‘High Moor’ werewolf trilogy.

DLS Synopsis:
It all started back in 1986 in the small town of High Moor when the mutilated corpse of a young boy is found in the nearby woods.  The police blame a panther that was reportedly on the loose.  But Sergeant Steven Wilkinson of the Durham Constabulary knows better.  This was no panther attack.  This was the work of a canine.  And it had to be big.

Carl Schneider – an expert in hunting such feral animals - is flown into Britain, causing a stir with customs as his arsenal of weaponry is examined.  Eventually all but a few of his guns and grenades are passed through customs.  After all – he has a job to do and he needs the tools of his trade to do that job.  Even if no one else has the faintest idea what’s going on, he knows exactly what they’re facing here in High Moor.

It takes showing Sergeant Wilkinson the beast in all its ferocious wrath to convince him what they’re up against.  However when a feral panther is caught in the vicinity, those in charge decide that the case of the savaged boy is now closed.  But Wilkinson knows better.  And when he carries on hunting the beast he believes is responsible, he finds himself fighting a losing battle with his superiors.

And then there’s another sighting.  Wilkinson’s the first to react.  Knowing that a group of scouts are camped nearby he races to the scene.  Luckily he gets there just in time to shoot down the werewolf that was inches from slaughtering two young boys.  But as all the other units and emergency services turn up to the scene, Steve Wilkinson’s all too aware that the problem isn’t over yet.

Both of the young boys were alive but they’d been savaged by the beast.  If all those old stories were true, and they survived their ordeal, then Wilkinson believes they will now be infected.  But they’ll have to wait for the first full moon to know for sure.

Twenty years later and there haven’t been any further sightings of the legendary High Moor Beast.  But now, after a local man and his dog are attacked in Coronation Park, there are fears that the beast has once again returned.  When John Simpson hears the news, he knows he has no choice but to return to his old home town.  It’s been over twenty years since he last set foot in High Moor.  But he knows all too well what it is that’s terrorising the dreary town.  He knows exactly what bloodthirsty beast is stalking through the woods and killing as it pleases.

After all, he of all people should know.  He’s one of them…

DLS Review:
Oh how I enjoyed this one!  For his debut, author Graeme Reynolds offers up a raw slab of action-packed werewolf horror; harking back to the good old days of the mid 1980’s.  Reynolds is probably all too aware that a fair proportion of his readership grew up during this particular era.  And he’s undoubtedly capitalised on the fact.  He’s managed to capture all the intricate details of that period - those small things that we all remember so fondly and so distinctly – which really sets the scene of the tale perfectly.  Furthermore the 80s backdrop never seems forced or overindulged.  It’s just there – bringing character to the setting and embroidering the storyline with reminiscent qualities.

The tale is broken down into three distinct parts which spreads the story out over two complete decades.  Aside from the opening prologue which instantly sets the ball rolling with an adrenaline pumping opener, the first two-thirds of the novel are set back in 1986, following the lives of John Simpson and his friends when they were just ten years old.  Here, as you’d expect, the 1980’s setting really comes into its own.  It’s a time when the country was feeling the strain of unemployment, particularly in the Northern areas of Britain (where this novel is set).  Life for kids was all about going out and about on your bike, building secret dens and treehouses, getting up to mischief, and avoiding the local bullies.  And Reynolds has captured the absolute essence of this perfectly.

For the most part the first two-thirds of the tale read like a British version of a Stephen King novel (only a hell of a lot less padded out).   Ten-year-old John Simpson spends his free time with his friends, Michael and David Williams and their younger sister Marie.  They’ve built a secret camp in the nearby woods which incorporates an ingeniously constructed treehouse.  Of course it’s not long before a bloodthirsty werewolf makes an appearance and the innocence of their youth is splashed with crimson.

From here our secondary protagonist, Sergeant Steven Wilkinson, comes into the equation.  Wilkinson’s your typical James Herbert style gritty cop.  One who cares more about saving lives and doing his job than the bureaucratic bullshit that inevitably accompanies the position.  Then you’ve got the American werewolf hunter – Carl Schneider – who’s initially brought in by the police force to hunt down and kill the beast.  Together the two make up an unlikely pairing – but one that ultimately works well, echoing all the continuous conflicts that are so abundant within every inch of the tale.

There are a hell of a lot of individual elements that make ‘High Moor’ work so damn well.  The pacing is absolutely spot on.  It’s tight and offers up a resounding urgency to every chapter.  The characters are independently fleshed-out and wonderfully believable.  There’s no loosely sketched out minor characters, merely added in for the slaughter.  Each character seems to have a role to play in the unfolding story.  And no one is safe.  Time and time again Reynolds makes this point; suddenly ripping the innards out of those that you thought wouldn’t possibly fall prey to the beast.

The strengths don’t end there.  Instead of sticking to the ‘tried and tested’ rulebook of werewolf lore – Reynolds has instead rewritten the rules, expanding the mythos in a similar way to what David S. Goyer did with the vampires in ‘Blade’ (1998).  Now we have varying species of werewolf.  Those who can turn at will, those who can change in broad daylight, and those at battle with their inner-wolf who are dubbed the Moonstruck.  I guess you’d say it’s ‘An American Werewolf In London’ (1981) meets ‘Blade’ (1998) only with an incredibly British backdrop.

Yes there’s a certain degree of elaborate complexity with this newly imagined mythos.  But it’s not overly burdensome on the story’s main plot.  It adds a layer, it thickens out a number of the inter-woven threads, but it doesn’t weigh anything down by over-defining.  In fact the balance is managed flawlessly.  Furthermore the levels of visceral gore injected into the piece are masterfully controlled.  There’s no gore for gore’s sake here.  The slaughter, no matter how brutal and explicit, always has a purpose.  The violence and butchery shown is full-bodied and without censorship.  It cuts deep and it leaves you breathless.  And on every occasion it explodes out of the book, leaving you gasping for air and your heart racing at a-mile-a-minute.

There’s just so much to like about the novel.  The amount of thought that’s gone into the construction and delivery has paid off in abundance.  From reading just a few chapters of the book you can see how much attention has been put into keeping the pace going strong, capitalising on the escalating momentum, and weaving in just the right amount of characters and subplots to make it one tight and utterly enthralling read from start to finish.

With ‘High Moor’ Reynolds has redefined the werewolf novel.  Cheese and cliché have been left at the door and instead what is offered up is a blood-soaked slab of gut-churning raw horror.  An absolute masterclass in how to reawaken a long-forgotten beast.

The novel runs for a total of 365 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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