Saturday, October 21, 2017

Book Review: Blood Snarl

Book Review: 'Blood Snarl' by Ivor Watkins

3 / 5 Stars

‘Blood Snarl’ first was published in the UK in 1980 as The Bloodsnarl. In the US, this Signet paperback (345 pp), retitled ‘Blood Snarl’, was released in January, 1982; the cover artist is uncredited.

‘Blood Snarl’ was UK author Ivor Watkins’s first novel; according to his bio, he had worked as a journalist on Fleet Street before changing careers to public relations. He published a second horror novel, ‘Demon’, in 1983.

‘Blood Snarl’ is set in the near-future (i.e., ca. 2000). The advent of Global Cooling means that the British Isles are seized by one of the coldest winters in living memory. England is economically depleted; snow and ice have reduced travel, emptied the government budget, fomented outbreaks of influenza, and reduced the standard of living to a point reminiscent of the days of postwar Austerity.

As bad as things are in England, they are worse in Northern Scotland, where ‘Blood’ takes place. The village of Elphin is the novel’s central location, and Elphin and the surrounding highlands are covered in waist-deep snow and freezing temperatures. Roads and railways are barely passable, and the government - preoccupied with events in England - is quite indifferent about the troubles afflicting Scotland.

The severe weather has led the red deer population to migrate from the country down to the village, where they search for edible vegetation. With their prey moving to areas of human habitation, the wolves of the highlands must follow. But one pack is led by an extraordinary wolf……….a wolf named Darkmind. Weighing two hundred pounds, intelligent, and cunning, Darkmind sees no reason why two-legged prey cannot be taken.

As Winter settles its hold on Elphin, the howling of wolves in the night brings with it a realization that northern Scotland has reverted to an earlier, less assured, era when primitive man vied with Canis lupus for the apex of the food chain. If wildlife ecologist Richard Unthank cannot find a way to deter the advance of the predators, the citizens of Elphin soon will find themselves caught in a desperate struggle for survival…………..

‘Blood Snarl’ is a readable novel, and one of the better entries in the ‘When Animals Attack’ sub-genre of horror novels of the 70s and 80s. Watkins wisely uses a straightforward prose style, leavened here and there with the occasional metaphor or simile (‘The weather was as fickle as a jealous woman’). He also takes care to involve the snowbound landscape of the Scottish highlands – and its real-life isolated farms, villages, forests, lochs, and parklands - as a quasi-character in and of itself, giving the novel an atmosphere conducive to its depiction of a senescent civilization beset with the forces of a resurgent Mother Nature.

Glencoe, Scotland, in Winter

Where ‘Blood’ shows strains is in its length; at 345 pages, it would 
greatly have benefited from being reduced in length by 75 – 100 pages. By the book’s halfway point the narrative grows increasingly reliant on generating suspense via having its Scottish villagers, and arrogant Americans, ever more willing to venture out into the snow alone and unarmed. Sub-plots involving romantic entanglements among the lead characters, the self-serving escapades of UK politicians, and the low morals of Fleet Street publishers also begin to wear. The novel’s last-chapter climax seems perfunctory and unconvincing.

The verdict ? ‘Blood Snarl’ is best described as The Wolfen Visit Scotland. I can’t say it’s a must-have, but if you see a copy on the shelf while wandering the aisles of your favorite used bookstore, it may be worth picking up.

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