I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of books based on werewolves. I’ve seldom read any that have truly impressed me and if I’m honest, I’m of the opinion that there’s only so much you can do with a werewolf story.
Against that background, I started reading Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor with some hesitation.
The following synopsis was provided:
“When John Simpson hears of a bizarre animal attack in his old home town of High Moor, it stirs memories of a long forgotten horror. John knows the truth. A werewolf stalks the town once more, and on the night of the next full moon, the killing will begin again. He should know. He survived a werewolf attack in 1986, during the worst year of his life.
It’s 1986 and the town is gripped in terror after the mutilated corpse of a young boy is found in the woods. When Sergeant Steven Wilkinson begins an investigation, with the help of a specialist hunter, he soon realises that this is no ordinary animal attack. Werewolves are real, and the trail of bodies is just beginning, with young John and his friends smack in the middle of it.
Twenty years later, John returns to High Moor. The latest attack involved one of his childhood enemies, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. The consequences of his past actions, the reappearance of an old flame and a dying man who will either save or damn him, are the least of his problems. The night of the full moon is approaching and time is running out.
But how can he hope to stop a werewolf, when every full moon he transforms into a bloodthirsty monster himself?”
The above synopsis gave me little hope for High Moor. It’s fairly uninspiring and fairly generic. However, this is not a fair reflection of the contents of High Moor. There are no cursed noblemen here or hybrid vampire/ werewolves; Reynolds takes the lycanthropic legend and drops it off in the North East of England of the mid-1980s; replete with unemployment, urban decay and other realities associated with the area at that time. Moreover, Reynolds central characters being children are not the naive youngsters might see in many horror films or books but streetwise, with mouths like sailors; and an attitude that is appropriate for kids growing up in such surroundings. Reynolds clearly remembers the 80s with numerous references that were a real blast from the past for me: computer games on cassette, World Cup sticker albums, etc. It’s little flourishes like these that start to set High Moor apart from other werewolf tales.
Where some authors would have been content for their work to finish, I found that Reynolds continued. In fact, I felt that there were two natural points during proceedings (setting aside the open ending) when the story could have been satisfactorily concluded. Instead, Reynolds chooses to advance his werewolf tale and at no point, did it feel like it was dragging out. It gave me a great sense of fulfilment to know what ACTUALLY happened to characters after the dust had settled on their own werewolf encounters and how it had impacted on their lives. Normality is quite often overlooked as an effective tool within the horror genre, with many writers simply plumping for the gore-factor. That’s not to say that Reynolds doesn’t have some fantastic action sequences and indeed, some particularly bloody deaths in High Moor; he just uses them to tell his story rather than making them the focal point of his tale.
Another point which sets High Moor above its contemporaries in the sub-genre, Reynolds makes his werewolves seem real with them having to deal with the same problems that non-lycanthropes have to face and also, the practicalities of dealing with bone-shattering transmogrifications and how to keep oneself restrained at times when the moon is full…
Critically, there are some sub-genre cliches in there but to my mind, those that were used enhanced the author’s ability to tell a story, since they added depth to the proceedings. Reynolds takes various aspects of common werewolf lore and creates a tale that has the potential to be a real foundation for a series of books spawning from the High Moor story. For me, there were scenes in High Moor that were reminiscent of Silver Bullet, An American Werewolf in London and a handful of other similar tales. However, I would suggest that being mentioned in the same breath as a work of Stephen King and my first memory of a horror movie (the changing scene in American Werewolf) is no bad thing.
High Moor is a solid action horror with visceral scenes, dark humour and realistic characters; and is a robust British addition to the werewolf sub-genre. Moreover, High Moor refreshingly does not simply conform to the genre archetype or tread the increasingly popular and woeful Twilight route.