John Farris is a name that I feel guilty for not knowing sooner. The man has won a couple of Bram Stoker Awards, and he has written 42 novels. I picked up his most recent, High Bloods, back at the start of the year, and finally had the time to sit down and read it. I am going to be making some trips back to the store to get some more of his stuff, because High Bloods was awesome.
High Bloods is a werewolf story, but it’s not the standard “hunt the beast” tale, and it’s not a gory slasher story either. It is a pulp-noir detective fiction novel, that just so happens to have werewolves in it. The basic premise is that the near future, I believe it takes place around 2035 or so, a plague of Lycanthropy has spread over the globe, dismantling standard society and government and leaving an almost, but not quite, post-apocalyptic remnant in its place. There is still an organized society, sure, but Farris gives off the impression through his description and his characters, that the controlled, semi-civilized way of life is not long for the world. The main character, Rawson, works for a type of law enforcement agency that is dedicated to controlling Lycans. Implants and technology are used to subdue and prevent the Lycan infected from going full on werewolf, and Rawson’s agency is responsible for overseeing that. One night, in front of Rawson, a girl “hairs up” which is not so unusual, except that it is not the full moon. From there Rawson embarks on quest to uncover the cause, and there are plenty of murders and villains along the way.
High Bloods blended several genres together so well that it deserves to be recognized as literature, without the additional clarifier of “horror.” The societal unrest, incredible advancement of, and reliance on, technology, the saturation of drugs, and the slow pull towards cultural entropy are reminiscent of the old school cyberpunk genre, especially Gibson’s Neuromancer. The plot itself reminded me of Dashiel Hammett on crack. There were so many twists and betrayals, sneaky plots and entertaining characters, that there was never a boring page. I read the entire novel in a day; I literally could not put it down.
Now even though Farris blends genres, do not assume that there is no horror left in the story. These werewolves are not the newer “turn into normal looking wolves” variety that are omnipresent in modern pop culture these days, but they are monstrous creatures, true wolf-men (or women) that want nothing more than to slaughter and feed. There are encounters that are tense, thrilling and scary, and I would not want to run into one of Farris’ werewolves in a dark alley, or anywhere else to be quite honest.
There are a few points to the plot that I felt should have had more coverage. For example, Farris uses a throwaway line about how the United States dissolved into city-states, and I feel as though that kind of back story would add a whole other level to an already rich tale. The way the story stands though, Farris can easily do a prequel, or a sequel, and I really hope that he does.