The “gift” of the title refers to a werewolf who acts more like Batman than like a bestial agent of disorder, for he goes about rescuing damsels (and guys) in distress and in the process killing the bad guys.
Reuben Golding has everything going for him—good looks, a monied family, a girlfriend and a job as a reporter for the San Francisco Observer. He’s sent to do a story on a mysterious house north of the city, and there he meets the equally mysterious Marchent Nideck, an elegant older woman who hopes to sell the house now that her great-uncle Felix Nideck has (after a 20-year disappearance) finally been declared officially dead. Touring the house with Marchent, Reuben becomes equally enamored with both architecture and hostess. Shortly after an eruption of spontaneous lovemaking, Marchent is attacked and killed, and Reuben, also attacked, finds himself badly injured. It seems Reuben’s attackers were themselves set upon by a beast who bit Reuben and left him a “Chrism”—the power to transform to lupine status and concomitant power to sniff out evil (literally) and snuff out evil-doers. In the hour’s interlude between lovemaking and attack, Marchent has conveniently contacted her lawyers and willed the Nideck estate to Reuben. The house is filled with Gothic bric-a-brac like old manuscripts and cuneiform tablets that suggest a connection to the supposedly (but not actually?) dead Felix. In his wolfish form Reuben falls in love with the recently widowed Laura, and, mystified by what’s happening, he seeks the advice of his sage brother Jim, a Roman Catholic priest. One of the mysteries is that it doesn’t take a full moon to effect Reuben’s transformation.
Despite some of the creakiness of the machinery, Rice finds new permutations in an old tale.