Pros: Great characterization and conclusion
Cons: Formulaic, unbelievable in spots, Christian bashing, and paramilitary
Ray Garton, master of modern horror, is back again with sex, death, and rock n’ roll. Picking up after the devastating events portrayed in Ravenous, Garton returns to the sleepy bedlam of evil suburbia where things that go bump in the night are hardly innocuous. Big Rock California is quickly becoming the hub of an evil empire. After the death of well meaning, albeit skeptical Sheriff Arlin Hurley and gang in the first installment, a new menace has moved into town. The new sheriff, Irving Taggart, ancient werewolf mastermind and leader of the pack, is ready to make a foothold for his kind and where better to start than sinister suburbia where everyone is asleep at the switch? Things really get kicking when the First Born arrives, a baby fathered by a werewolf and it looks like survival of the fittest is taking on a whole new meaning.
Meanwhile, while the silver eyed lycanthropes move into town, Karen Moffet and Gavin Keoph (key characters from Garton’s Night Life), private investigators for popular horror novelist Marvin Burgess, are hired to look into suspicious activity in Big Rock. After the shall we say, none too pleasant events in Night Life Karen and Gavin are hardly keen to become werewolf chow, but they nevertheless agree and the fight between good and evil, lycanthrope and human that began in the first book, is about to ignite. Sex, death, 7th Day Adventism, and werewolves are about to mix in a strange, albeit, interesting sequel to Garton’s stunning lycanthrope saga. Get ready to get bestial!
Typical Garton, Bestial packs all the elements fans have come to love. Rampant and graphic sex, gore, and supernatural conniving take precedence as the storyline picks up from the previous tale. Readers new to Garton, and especially readers who have not read Ravenous, should not start with this novel since it references several previous works. At the very least, new readers should read Ravenous first. Live Girls and Night Life are not essential prerequisites to Bestial.
While Ravenous was mostly certainly a gore and sex fest, the narrative had a distinct atmosphere of the macabre and the storyline was fairly unique. While Bestial picks up the tale nicely, it doesn’t pack the same brutal visceral impact proudly sported by the first installment. Why? Bestial falls back on the formulaic instead of ramping up the intrigue to the next level. Sadly, this is also something distinctly Garton-esque. His every popular Live Girls (now being made into a movie) was unique and intriguing yet the sequel, Night Life¸ wallowed in the abysmal, obsidian depths of the distinctly lame. In other words, Garton has trouble with sequels. However, Bestial is by no means a horrible read. It just doesn’t live up to the glory of the first in the series.
Several key facets of Bestial just don’t fit with the logical progression of Ravenous. For instance, it was believable in Ravenous that a few wayward werewolves just might happen through a sleepy town in the boons but now they are making it their headquarters? So, an army of nearly invincible mythological creatures are hiding out in a run down little country town in the middle of nowhere, running a sheriff’s station while at it? So, what are they going to take over next? Are they going to run the local B&N or even worse, take over Starbucks like Dr. Evil? If werewolves start serving my lattes, I’m out of there.
Following the meander into B-horror illogic, a few other elements of the story just don’t quite fit for skeptical readers who like their horror supernatural, unrealistic, borderline fantastical, and, of course, logical while at it. Firstly, the entire 7th Day Adventist theme. According to back cover blurb, Garton was raised a 7th Day Adventist, and from the tale, it’s more than obvious that he has a severe axe to grind. At any possible junction, the characters defame said church (got tired of writing the long name), find a way to have some sex and mutilation in said church, and, naturally, the werewolves are all gung ho to take over the church and commit the ultimate sacrilege. So, mythological beings that are nearly invincible and evil at it are, naturally, more concerned with messing with the Adventists than taking over the world. Come on. Obviously, the author has an axe to grind and while he does present the town’s church goers as a miserable old crowd, the reader soon gets tired of the commentary. Get over it already.
Following the illogical elements put a fork in the werewolves and there done, seriously. Silver flatware is now deadly to the grim beasties. See, being born with a silver spoon has even more advantages than you thought. So, out alone on the moors at night (yeah, who isn’t), hear a lone howl, all you need to do is get your deadly flatware ready and go ballistic. I guess that silver of any kind can work, but it just seems a little ludicrous that the final battle is held with silver bullets, Uzis, and tableware. I can stretch my imagination and buy it, but I’m not happy about it.
So, there you have it, formulaic B-horror has a definite presence in this tale. Topping that, we now have good werewolves vs bad werewolves which hey, it’s been so done before. And, added to the good vs evil theme that populates about 99.99999% of horror tales, Garton also decided to go commando on the audience when Burgess (one of my least favorite characters from previous novels) calls in the big guns in form of over tattooed ex convicts with paramilitary attitudes and some incredible firepower, not to mention out right dumb dialogue. Thank goodness that Garton lapsed into paramilitary absurdity infrequently otherwise the tale would have been ruined. This is a werewolf story, not another addition to the ongoing Doom franchise. Garton’s general style and thematic approach don’t mix with military machismo.
From the massively over written sections above where I butchered huge segments of the novel, you might think that Bestial failed, but that’s not so either. It definitely had the possibility of failure, was even leaning toward it at several key scenes, but Garton added just enough well done elements to redeem the tale and make it enjoyable, if not perfect. One of the most well enacted elements of this novel was Garton’s characterization, something that has always been a strong focus in his ever increasing repertoire of horror. Bob, the down-pressed thirty year old who still lives with his viciously Adventist mother and grandmother, proves a sympathetic figure. I can’t stand any form of Christian blasting (because I am a Christian), but I actually enjoyed Bob’s story. The mother and grandmother figures to me were a testament against people who misuse religion to destroy others because of their natural bitterness. I am aware that this wasn’t Garton’s intent. His not so subtle message was to say that Christianity ruins people, but I decided to take it another way.
Likewise, Gavin and Karen, two characters I found ridiculous and disliked in Night Life, were actually pretty good beans in Bestial. The obvious trauma they underwent from their prior experiences in Burgess schemes left them with a haunted, jaded quality, making them sympathetic figures and the readers truly cared about what happened to them (an incredible accomplishment for horror fiction I might add – readers usually just want to see the characters get eaten).
Abe, the kind hearted doctor, George Willard, Arlin’s old confidant, and Ella, Arlin’s widow, combined their efforts with Bob, Karen, and Gavin, creating a gang of realistic and empathetic characters. Because the reader cared so deeply about the characters welfare, plot holes and conspicuously formulaic sequences became less devastating to the overall quality of the tale.
While the novel was slow to really get cranking, once the action began there was no stopping and the conclusion, while a little ridiculous in some instances (ditch the Uzi toting ex-cons and the religion bashing) was actually pretty action fraught and dynamic. Garton kept the adrenalin pumping, the sex and gore escalating, and the betrayal shocking. The ending was refreshingly satisfying and edge-of-the-seat and while it tied up a lot of ends, Garton also left a little something for the next novel in the series that keeps the reader interested in reading more.
Overall, a good product. Bestial could have been better, and certainly didn’t live up to the high standards that Garton usually aspires to. However, top notch characterization keeps the emotions raw, escalates the drama, and leads to a stunning conclusion complete with vengeance and betrayal cleverly implemented by a talented pen. Fans will be pleased. Recommended.
*edit* A note to potential readers. After having written a review on Bestial, author Ray Garton sent me two personally insulting, vindictive, and frankly childish, hateful emails. While this unwarranted, unprofessional attack has not changed my opinion of his novel, nor diminished my appreciation for his talent, I strongly advise future reviewers to reconsider reading, reviewing, and purchasing his works since the author seems a little unhinged and most certainly unable to take constructive criticism.
Other Works by Ray Garton:
The New Neighbor
The Folks 2: No Place Like Home
The Loveliest Dead