Peter David,
Howling Mad
(Ace, 1989; reissued 1999)

Sometimes, the rapidity with which some books vanish into out-of-print limbo can annoy you beyond belief. And sometimes, it just makes you howling mad.

Sadly, Howling Mad is one of those books which disappeared from the realms of ready availibility. Fortunately for us, Ace Books was smart enough to re-issue it in 1999, 10 years after it's original publication. That's a good thing, because Peter David (perhaps better known for his work in the comics field) has one of the keenest wits on the bookshelves today.

Howling Mad is a new take on an old story. A werewolf is on the prowl, an innocent is attacked and bitten but not killed and, when the next full moon rolls around ... well, you know the story. But in this case, the victim of the werewolf's bite is not a human -- it's a wolf. And when the next moon rises, there's a new man in town.

David's description of the sensations a wolf becoming a man would experience is uncannily realistic -- assuming, of course, that David has never undergone such a transformation himself. Even as the visual changes take place -- bones stretch and snap into strange new shapes, the long snout shrinks, the tail vanishes, legs fill out and bend in new angles, fur falls off in clumps, revealing bare pink skin -- David gives a rundown of more disconcerting changes: the sharp senses of scent and hearing are muffled to insignificance, even as the wolf's black-and-white world expands into vivid technicolor.

So what is a tall, well-built (and, by the by, completely naked) man to do when he's found in the Canadian wilderness in the vicinity of a spate of recent attacks? Well, he might be forgiven for reacting in feral fashion -- and, of course, he ends up locked away in a padded cell. No one seems to know where he disappeared to come morning, but the wolf that's there in his place is soon sent off to a small New York City zoo. And there, the wolf encounters Darlene, an animal rights activist with bad taste in men.

The newly named Josh's adaptation to human society is delightful to watch. (As are Darlene's efforts to explain why she has a wolf in her apartment for most of the ensuing month.) Witness, for instance, Josh's first introduction to alcohol:

He stared at the glass and swirled the liquid around. "You mean it's supposed to taste like that?"


"Why? How does anybody consume it? Why would anybody?"

"Because we like it. It relaxes you."

"I was relaxed. Now I'm tense. And the taste...."

She shrugged, leaning back in the chair. "You get used to it."

"Why would anyone want to get used to it?"

"We get used to all kinds of things. The sharp taste of alcohol, the bitter taste and caffeine shakes from coffee, the smoke and yellow teeth and coughing from cigarettes. We're real good at getting used to everything we have to suffer with in order to have a good time."

Besides Josh and Darlene, David has peopled his story with some great supporting characters. Take, for instance, Duncan, a hard-luck vampire living homeless in Manhattan. Then there's the elderly, feisty, shotgun-toting Mrs. Michaelson, who doesn't take kindly to strange shenanigans in her apartment building. Byron Keller, a disenchanted American, gets the story rolling but his part, while striking a sympathetic chord with many Americans in his circumstances, is rather short. And then there's ol' Doc Parsons....

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Howling Mad while browsing a used bookstore in Toronto. (Canadians, it seems, have a much better book selection than we literacy-starved neighbors to the south.) I urge you to grab this one while you can. However, if publishers once again deem it good and proper to deny themselves the cover price on this one, I urge you to seek it out through other means -- if you like to laugh, it's worth the search.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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