Only one month after Guy N. Smith's fourth and bestselling horror novel, 'Night of the Crabs', hit shelves (and promptly flew off them again into the eager hands of drought-inspired holidaymakers), his fifth horror novel showed up too, but 'Night of the Werewolf' wasn't the follow-up that its title might have suggested. In fact, it didn't even appear as 'Night of the Werewolf' when it was published in August 1976.
It was actually 'Der Ruf des Werwolfs', because it was published in the German language only, in a digest sort of magazine format by publisher Erich Pabel, who had translated 'Werewolf by Moonlight' into German a year earlier and would follow up with six further translations of British novels by Guy by the end of the decade. The new legions of British fans would have to wait a long time to read this one, though. It first appeared in English in serial form, starting in 1993, in 'Graveyard Rendezvous', an indie zine at the time that would eventually turn into Guy's fan club journal. However, most English-speaking readers finally laid their hands on it in 2012, when it saw book form in the English language for the first time. The Germans had the drop on us for 36 years!
Now, there are some obvious similarities to Guy's debut novel, 'Werewolf by Moonlight' that can't be ignored. Sure, we're in Scotland instead of the Welsh borders, but it's still a rural setting, a village named Glencaple on the outskirts of Dumfries, and the moors and hillsides around it. The characters are predominantly shepherds rather than farmers, but that's not a huge change. And the hero of 'Werewolf by Moonlight', Gordon Hall, is effectively split into two characters here: the tall, pipe-smoking sportsman of a hero is named Odell while the free-lance journalist who stumbles on a supernatural situation is named Ron Hamilton. Put together, they're close to Gordon Hall in most respects, ditching perhaps only his womanising angle as not-quite-as-wish-fulfilment as it might have initially seemed.
Of course, Odell is also not particularly unlike his namesake, Raymond Odell; Guy’s own fictional private detective in the seventies, a knock-off of Dixon Hawke with his aquiline features and his calm deductive reasoning, but also his ability to spur into action when needed. However, Odell was only being published in zines and booklists, so hadn’t made it into a published novel to seem familiar to regular readers. When he finally made it into book form, in a collection of short stories, it would be in the last book released during Guy's lifetime, out of more than a hundred.
Here’s where we move into the differences, because, unlike Gordon Hall (or Raymond Odell), this Odell is a werewolf hunter and we find that out at the very beginning of the novel before we find out anything else. In the prior couple of decades, he’s already slain “a score of wolf beasts” across the continent and he’s been summoned to Scotland to tackle the Beast of Glencaple, which has been terrorising the locals for six weeks, devouring a few sheep and murdering at least one young shepherd. The superstitious locals believe that the beast is a werewolf and, in this instance, they’re right. Particularly unusually, Odell even knows exactly who this werewolf is during the day when the moon isn’t controlling him.
And that's as much of a departure from traditional werewolf stories as 'Werewolf by Moonlight' was, when it transplanted a traditionally continental curse into the British Isles. We know from the very first chapter that this is going to be a battle pitting experienced werewolf hunter Odell against the black-bearded giant Angus Broon, who drinks in the Nith Hotel. When we discover, not much later, that Ron Hamilton's wife Ingrid grew up in Glencaple and she scorned Broon's advances when they were young, we realise that Hamilton is also to play his part in taking down Broon and Ingrid is likely to be the catalyst. We're not wrong.
Another key difference between 'Night of the Werewolf' and 'Werewolf by Moonlight' is that the death count is much higher. This still isn’t a particularly gory read, though it does have its momentslike when Broon savages a pregnant ewe, squelching and munching on the unborn lambs that he rips out of her bellybut it doesn't skimp on kills either. Guy's debut only featured one human death, but Broon murders at least seven people, six within these pages, and there's another peripheral death that's due to his actions, even if it isn't at his hands. That's a boarder at the Nith Hotel, who leaps off the top floor to escape the blazing furnace that it's become, only to land in the street with a thud. The rest are up close and personal.
The biggest difference thoughnot only between Guy’s two werewolf novels thus far but between this and almost any werewolf story written by anyoneis in how Broon became a werewolf. I won’t spoil the details, but I will say that he didn’t become a werewolf after being bitten by another werewolf or some other animal carrying the lycanthropy virus, as Philip Owen was in Werewolf by Moonlight. Instead, Guy introduces a different supernatural approach to this age-old monster and I’d love to explore the origins of the idea, but it’s a really difficult Google search to make. And no, Broon was not conceived under a new moon; he was not cursed by a wronged gypsy woman; and he did not spend a night sleeping outside under the full moon on a Friday. Let’s just say that I believe that Guy may have been influenced by a case recorded in Germany in 1589 and let you look up Peter Stubbe for yourself, if you so wish.
So, we're set for a werewolf novel that phrases itself in an unusual way for 1976 with a werewolf hunter aiming for a werewolf who has an unusual reason to be what he is. So, this is kind of unusual. However, once it's got all that unusual stuff established, it's not a particularly surprising read.
Odell has Broon, in werewolf form, in his sights in the very first chapter and believes he nails the shot, but the Beast of Glencaple gets away. Enter the Hamiltons, who are drinking in the Nith Hotel when Broon wanders in, and the ensuing fight is enough to know that it gets very personal very quickly. Sure enough, the beast waits for an opportunity to kidnap Ingrid and successfully spirits her away to his hidden lair on the moor, so that his plan to make her a werewolf bride can come to fruition. Odell and Ron must find her and stop him before that happens, naturally, and I won't take bets on whether they succeed. There's also much foreshadowing of a neat finalé too, which is a karma-filled showdown that rings very familiar from some of the synopses that I've read of novels Guy pitched to publishers but never wrote. I guess he did here.
I surprised myself by realising that I may not have actually read 'Night of the Werewolf' before. I thought that I had, either in manuscript form or in 'Graveyard Rendezvous', but this doesn't ring any bells and so it may be a new one on me, which makes me happy. And I liked it, because it includes so many of the aspects that Guy does so well and adds a couple of unusual approaches that I didn't expect, though it's hardly explored with any real depth. The plot is capable but, after the first couple of setup chapters, it's not remotely surprising and none of the characters are particularly deep.
In fact, Angus Broon becomes so cartoonish a monster that there were points where I visualised him as Bluto, prompting me to see Odell and Ron Hamilton as a composite Popeye and Ingrid as Olive Oyl. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Guy was going for, but it would be an easy translation. In fact, there’s a further scene that I visualised as a cartoon and that’s the one animal death that isn’t an inevitable mauling of a sheep. It’s a hare and we meet it in Broon’s lair, where he’s caged a whole slew of animals to frighten and later eat. It can’t get out of its cage, of course, so when it sees the human monster transform into a wolf beast, it literally dies of fright. That’s totally fair, but with the Popeye mindset, I saw it die in overblown cartoon form, landing stiffly on its back with its toes in the air and I’m sure that’s not what Guy intended.
But I enjoyed this. It's Guy taking something old and trying something new with it, beyond what he'd already done with the genre. As such, this would have probably felt a lot more unusual in 1976 than it maybe does now, in a world where vampire hunters or werewolf hunters feature in every other urban fantasy on the shelves of bookstores and every other author invents their own origin stories, however wild. To fans of Guy N. Smith, it's another early title from a writer who never really wanted to be a horror novelist but found himself writing an increasing number of horror novels that people bought and enjoyed. The genre was claiming him for its own.
He fought it for a while, though. Next month is another horror novel, but this one a novelisation, of a Tyburn movie called 'The Ghoul', released to theatres in 1975, with Peter Cushing and John Hurt. Then, Guy got into a thriller mode with a pair of books to start of a series called 'The Truckers'; wrote a direct sequel to 'Werewolf by Moonlight' in 'Return of the Werewolf'; and then turned out a gory war novel in 'Bamboo Guerillas'. After that, it's horror all the way for quite a while. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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