From the author of The Whaler Fortune (2014) comes a Victorian supernatural thriller about a good man coping with a science-born curse.
In London 1841, Dr. Moyer Phillips keeps a ferocious black wolf captive in his lab. As a member of the scholarly—and secret—Golden Serpent Society, the doctor dedicates his studies to controlling mental illness. His test subject is a wolf primarily because, like humans, the species maintains a social hierarchy. “Chemically, I have introduced a controlled insanity,” he tells his colleagues. One night, Phillips finds his wolf prone and unresponsive, so he examines the animal—and is bitten. Meanwhile, Cecil Griffiths arrives in Ramsbury Barlow, outside London, to find work and living arrangements. He’s taken on by the Breggins estate, where he befriends fellow worker Burney and a boy named Davey. Cecil makes even better connections through the church, including the Windham family: Graham, Cynthia, and their daughter, Marie. He’s invited to dinner on their sprawling farm, but the night is interrupted by the attack of a humanoid wolf. During the ensuing carnage, Cecil is wounded by the creature, and he later finds that his hearing and other senses have sharpened. As grisly murders begin seizing London, Cecil struggles to find the good in each day. Author Michael imbues his thriller with a trenchant darkness reminiscent of Poe and Lovecraft: “The God of this world,” Cecil tells Burney, “is not concerned with the affairs of man.” Michael’s flair for gory action is a force unto itself, as when a suspect is “stabbing and strangling with the madness of a blind animal.” Much of the prose uses Victorian wordiness, which sometimes hinders the narrative; a policeman says, “We are threshing all leads with paramountcy.” Otherwise, Michael squeezes 19th-century London for all the sordid creepiness he can, using dustmen, a psychic, and Highgate Cemetery to amplify his tale. That most of the victims are evil speaks to the theme of self-defined justice, and the finale is suitably explosive.
A thriller that ably rakes through werewolf tropes in search of new territory.