David Holland,
Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale
(Forge, 2000)

When Sir Charles Meredith, an elderly and upright member of an exclusive London gentlemen's club, announces one night that he has a tale to tell privately to young Lord Whitby, soon to be the fifteenth Duke of Darnley, he startles everyone in the room, for none of them were used to hearing him speak. They are further startled by the arrangements that he makes to meet Whitby in private, away from the club to impart his narrative.

The following evening, Meredith and Whitby meet as planned and Meredith tells the tale of the thirteenth Duke of Darnley, Whitby's cousin, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances -- but Meredith is intimately acquainted with those circumstances, for he had once been Darnley's closest friend.

Meredith's tale begins with Darnley's hunting expedition to the Carpathians, where he encounters and kills a wolf of tremendous size and ferocity. Wounded in the battle, he finds himself slowly losing the use of his arm -- until the next full moon, when he himself becomes a beast such as the one he slew. Darnley is now a werewolf.

But rather than horror at his metamorphosis, Darnley feels complete fascination and sets out to study the changes taking place within him. He begins a diary, with careful notes concerning all his thoughts and feelings, as well as observations on his physical state. But Darnley's "experiments" soon begin to take a horrific turn -- and yet he feels no remorse at his actions, but justifies them by stating that they are natural and normal for one in his condition. And soon, he approaches Meredith, intending to invite his friend to join him in his new state of freedom.

Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale, a first novel for author David Holland, is an in-depth examination of a man descending, if not into madness, then certainly into depravity. Darnley talks of killing and eating victims as though it were the most natural thing in the world -- and indeed, that is how he thinks of it. In his eyes, he is becoming what man was always intended to be, before he developed the encumbrances of society and morality.

Set in Victorian England -- mostly London and Darnley's ancestral estate, Murcheston -- the story is narrated in a style that calls to mind the writings of Charles Dickens. One can almost see Ebenezer Scrooge stalking through the streets, followed by the Artful Dodger. The tale is told in three parts, with the largest portion being Darnley's diary, which calls to mind another Victorian favorite -- Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Murcheston: The Wolf's Tale is the sort of powerful novel that will stay with you long after you have finished it. You'll find yourself searching the shadows on the night of the full moon, wondering if there could possibly be something lurking there.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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