First published back in 1977 in paperback (the first hardback release of the novel wasn’t until 1986) US horror author Gary Brandner’s cult classic pulp werewolf novel ‘The Howling’ was the authors first tentative endeavour into the horror genre for which he later became widely known for.  The book has seen a number of re-releases over the following years both in the US and the UK.

More recently the book has been re-released by MHB Press in October 2010 in three different limited edition formats:

Collector’s Edition (300 signed and numbered copies) - The book is bound in Colorado Book Cloth with a sewn book block, head/tail bands and a bound-in ribbon book mark. The pages themselves are 115 gsm matt coated paper, which gives the book that added luxurious weight.

Deluxe Edition (150 signed and numbered copies) - The book is handmade, quarter bound in grey goat skin leather with handmade paper covered boards, including additional colour artwork and issued in a special handmade cloth covered slipcase.

Lettered Edition (26 signed and lettered A-Z copies) - This ultra-luxurious edition is handmade, fully bound in grey goat skin leather with gilt edges and handmade marbled endpapers, including additional colour artwork and comes in an extra indulgent handmade traycase.

The MHB Press re-release includes new cover artwork and a small number of black & white illustrations, all by illustrator Dan Harding.  The books also include a three page introduction by the author detailing how he came to write the novel, his motivations, the subsequent sequels and his views on the numerous b-movies that the series spawned.

DLS Synopsis:
On the border between Greece and Bulgaria, deep within the dark Arda Forest, there once stood a small peasant village known as Dradja.  In its place it is now just a lifeless patch of ash.  Nothing more.  For fire burned away the crimes of the villagers.  A fire that reaped its way through the village in the hope of destroying every last sole there.

Back to the present day and the young couple Roy and Karyn Beatty are enjoying a good life together in Los Angeles.  That is, until one summer day on the couple’s anniversary, Roy pops out on a last minute errand for his work leaving Karyn alone in their home with only their small collie dog Lady as company.  There, in the supposed safety of their own home, Karyn is brutally raped by the neighbourhood gardener and ex-convict - Max Quist.

To help with Karyn’s psychological recovery from the traumatic ordeal, Roy takes her away from the hustle and bustle of the city of L.A., securing a six month lease on a small rural premises in the outback woodland community of Drago.  There, Roy hopes the quiet lifestyle will bring his wife back to her normal self.  And after refurbishing the quaint woodland property, the two settle in for some much needed relaxation.

However, all is not quite as peaceful as it first appears.  Karyn is the first to hear the howling, deep in the woodland nearby as the couple lie in bed at night.  From then on each night Karyn lies in bed at night, hoping for sleep, only to be disturbed by the eerie howling from outside their new home.

After realising that they accidentally left Lady outside one night, the couple find that the collie is now missing.  The local stand-in sheriff, Anton Gadak, suspects coyotes are to blame.  But Karyn is far from convinced.  Instead she has the creeping feeling that a much larger beast is responsible for their pet’s murder.  A beast that haunts the woodland area around their new abode at night.  A beast that keeps the terrified young woman awake each night with its blood-chilling howling.  A beast that Karyn is slowly becoming convinced is in fact a bloodthirsty werewolf…

DLS Review:
From the very outset ‘The Howling’ sets off with a purely pulp horror gusto, relishing in the colourful energy of graphic sex, biting-violence and an overall clinging atmosphere of oppressive horror.  Very much in the vein of the prolific pulp horror master, Guy N Smith’s ‘Werewolf’ series – most notably with his debut ‘Werewolf By Moonlight’ (1974), Brandner’s novel takes the legendary mythical beast of the werewolf, and redefines it for a more modern day pulpish premise.

No longer is the werewolf bound by the laws of the full moon.  No longer is the beast a mythical monster from the dark ages.  Instead we have a very real and haunting threat, howling at the doorstep and biding its time.  And Brandner plays on this new burst of life for the werewolf with an energetic and inspired relish.

The characterisation of the Beatty couple is excellent.  The reader truly feels for Karyn after her vicious rape.  Her subsequent trauma is portrayed with a surprising amount of emotional sympathy and depth to the character – with Roy’s battle to cope with his wife’s resulting emotional illness a key element to the progression of the plot.

The pace of the tale is reasonably reserved, with a more meandering (but still purposeful) approach adopted.  This however, does not encroach on the overall engagement of the reader to the storyline, but instead sets the scene and gradually builds on the creeping tension of the beastly presence.

Around the halfway mark of the reasonably short novel, Brandner reaches the point where it’s time to start shovelling in the action and bloodspill from some edge-of-the-seat werewolf antics.  From here on, the gory bloodshed starts to snowball.  As each page is turned, more and more chilling revelations are brought out.  From an eerie howling in the night, to a horrific discovery that nowhere is safe, the tale takes the reader right up to a brilliantly mile-a-minute finale that throws down adrenaline pumping action and breath-taking suspense to the very last word.

There’s no escaping the utterly pulpish thrills of this novel.  It promises nothing more, but what it does offer is a thick slice of good honest horror fiction with plenty of twists and turns in its formula.  Yes, much of the novel plays along some pretty darn predictable paths, with little that really jumps out at the reader as a surprise twist.  But this doesn’t diminish the utter enjoyment of the pulpy tale in the slightest.

‘The Howling’ is one to sit back, enjoy, and get well and truly stuck into for a good few hours of reading.

The novel runs for a total of 197 pages and was later followed on with the sequels ‘The Howling II: The Return Of The Howling’ (1979) and ‘The Howling III: Echoes’ (1985).

© DLS Reviews

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