Monday, March 24, 2008

Ravenous by Ray Garton (werewolf horror)

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on Down in the Cellar. Copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission.

In 1987, author Ray Garton’s novel Live Girls revitalized the vampire novel with its groundbreaking mix of sex and violence, in the process practically creating the “erotic horror” subgenre on its own. Over twenty years later, Garton’s latest is poised to do the same for werewolves, another classic horror mainstay in dire need of a makeover.

Big Rock, CA — His search for The Pine County Rapist has been filling his time, but Sheriff Farrell Hurley’s problems are about to get much worse. His receptionist, Emily Crane, killed the shadowy figure (with silver eyes!) that raped her, but the corpse was subsequently seen escaping from the morgue, running naked through the hospital waiting area to the outside, where it attacked and killed a deputy who tried to catch it.

After the attacks in the opening pages, Garton holds off for almost one hundred pages before the next batch. In the interim, he develops his characters so that we get to know them as people before it’s their turn to be transformed into creatures with undeniable cravings for raw meat and rutting.

In Ravenous, lycanthropy is a virus that is transmitted sexually when an extant werewolf couples with an uninfected person. Garton plays with the suspense factor since a person does not have to know they’re infected to pass on the disease. That the infection makes the recipient randier than usual only means that it spreads more quickly in this small town.

(Though best known for his erotic horror, Garton’s approach is not exploitive. Only the consensual sex scenes in Ravenous are written to titillate; the various rape scenes are appropriately horrifying. This sets him apart from some horror writers who don’t seem to know the difference.)

And around the halfway point, all bets are off. Garton plays for keeps. There are no favored characters. Everybody is a possible target for sex or supper, even if they were only introduced pages before. But in a Ray Garton novel, the walk-ons get a full characterization, too. Garton doesn’t shirk in his writing, which makes him one of the top horror writers working today.

(Update: a sequel, Bestial, is forthcoming in April 2009.)


Kent said...

I was wondering about this one, Craig. Garton is most often a dependable writer, so it probably would've been a safe bet, but it's good to get the word from a reviewer I can trust.

Now I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for the good words, Kent. Glad to be of help.

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