Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Reviews: Murcheston

Murcheston The Wolf's Tale
by David Holland
This is an older book which you will hopefully be able to find online or in a quality used bookstore. Everyone should be so lucky as to live close to a good used bookstore. You never know what you might find there. If you happen to have literary tastes that range beyond the pedestrian these are good places to hang out. Unlike the few remaining big box bookstores these tend to be quiet places that cater to people who actually like to discover new authors and genres. 

Used bookstores often have their own (quite literally in some cases) funky aroma and style, whether it be an insouciant feline who struts across the counter while you're trying to pay for your purchase, a sleepy old dog who warily watches you from one eye or a clerk of indeterminate gender and excessive body hair who apparently hasn't showered or used deodorant since sometime during the Clinton Administration. But if you're a bookhound you put up with all of this and perhaps even enjoy it in small dosages. 

You do that because occasionally you discover little gems like this book. It is no spoiler to say that this book plunges into the supernatural, as should be evident from both the title and the cover art. Duh. But what sets this book apart is not the supernatural story but the philosophy, worldview and settings that animate the story. It tells the tale of a world long gone in Victorian era Great Britain. 

This setting still engages the imagination of many. At just under 400 pages this book is a quick read but one that is still relatively dense. You are easily brought into the description of events and will want to find out what happens next. The story seamlessly switches between third person and first person. The first person is largely told via diary flashbacks, something which (deliberately?) puts the reader in mind of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

While George R.R. Martin has reworked the werewolf myth with his "good" Starks and their (well some of them anyway) ability to "warg" or place their consciousness into their wolves, this story mostly keeps the classic tropes of the werewolf myth. A man is attacked by something that appears less than human but more than animal. He's wounded but survives. At the next full moon however he turns into a wild animal and wreaks havoc. 

In Murcheston, the man so afflicted is Edgar Lenoir, who's bitten on a hunting trip to the Carpathian Mountain ranges in Eastern Europe. Edgar is the Duke of Darnley. He can trace his lineage to the arrival of William the Conqueror. The catch is that this story is told via Edgar's diaries to one of Edgar's younger relatives who is next in line to become Duke after Edgar...well you'll have to read the book and see. Even before he was bitten Edgar was a fierce individualist and Social Darwinist, a hedonist and rogue. 

Afterward he's even more confirmed in his attitude that life belongs to the strong. He becomes increasingly convinced that morality, religion and even unnecessary kindness are strictures devised by the weak to turn man from his true nature. Edgar resolves to put all of that aside. He believes that he is being modern and scientific in his approach. He views his lycanthropy as a blessing and gift. The reader can decide how truly lost Edgar is. 

The man who delivers the diaries to Edgar's relative has a personal reason for doing so. I liked this book. It effectively combined mystery, social and philosophical commentary, history and a little horror for a fun and occasionally thrilling read. If you like Victorian period settings and mysteries, check this one out.
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