Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: Beneath the Skin by Jonathan Maberry

It has been a while since I last reviewed a werewolf book. It is not for lack of trying, however. I've began reading many novels and short stories, but I rarely finish them. Partly because they offer nothing new or they are just written in a style I don't care for. However, Jonathan Maberry's - the author of the latest The Wolfman novelisation - Beneath the Skin intrigued me almost from the very first page onwards. Here, we have a noir style character: a private detective taking on dull jobs to get along. But he also has a big secret: he's a werewolf, part of an ancient race of Benandanti whose task it is to fight evil.

Beneath the Skin is a collection of novellas and short stories. Unfortunately, this means that the stories are rarely long enough to dig very deep into their themes and several of them are rather straight-forward. But, luckily, there's some variety: There's a child who is tortured by a monster - straight our of the Cthulhu mythos - living in his bedroom closet, vampires taking over a town and a secret lab churning out super-soldiers.

"I had a mildly masochistic urge to log into my bank account to see how much I had left, but I drank beers until I came to my senses."

The protagonist, Sam Hunter, is not a very deep character. He has his code of honour that makes him treat his clients as part of his "own pack" and he has a past life as a cop who was kicked out for being too violent in his job (too many of his suspects turned out mauled by a large dog). The short story format causes these details to be repeated a little too often and it is obvious that the stories were originally published separately. This also shows in the slightly too easy "Sam turns into a werewolf and beats all the bad guys" solutions to some of the stories. The stories are at their best when they break out of this mold and when the Cthulhu mythos stories really begin to kick in. These stories promise a continuity and leave you yearning for more at the end of the collection. And, as all pulp noir stories need, there are some good, deep thoughts and snarky commentary on society (and many cheesy lines) as well.

"We - society - inflict all sorts of injuries on people and then blame them for having scars. We sexualize and exploit and then condemn them for being the living representations of their own desires. We use them and then blame them for having been used."

Overall, despite its weaknesses, this was an engaging read and I was left wanting more. These many not be the deepest or the most complex stories on the block, but they mix the private investigator, werewolf and horror genres quite nicely. However, if more stories are written, I'd hope for a little bit more variety - and a deeper treatment of Sam Hunter as a character.