Horror fiction has often addressed the notion of “the lesser of two evils.” With a recent book review, we’ve looked at Dracula combatting Nazis. In Apex Predator, by S.M. Douglas, werewolves are pitted against plutocracy. More than just Lycanthropes vs. Wolves of Wall Street, the novel is an ambitious examination of corporate corruption—with carnage that feels cathartic.
The inhumane human monster of the narrative is Jimmy Connelly, a sociopath with far-reaching power and enormous wealth. A truly heinous character, he is a sadistic egoist. A spate of apparent suicides within his circle of business associates ties in with the discovery of a mutilated body of a hedge fund manager. Detroit is the locale of the crime. One of its poverty-ridden sectors is vividly described: “Burned out buildings punctuated most blocks, the carcasses of torched cars blighted the worst streets. In the few occupied homes faces appeared between narrow gaps in shades otherwise drawn tight.”
Douglas stresses the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots, but manages to temper the observations with dialogue that keeps a possible descent into preachiness at bay. There’s quite a lot of detailed backstory in the tale, which is sometimes challenging to read. Concerning the inherent question, “But what about the werewolves?”, these shapeshifters have definite horror appeal. Here’s an example: “Teasing, tantalizing images danced through his mind; flayed open salty skin, the enticing strips of subcutaneous fat cradling the chunks of fibrous muscle clinging to bone.” Hat tips to novelists Gary Brandner (who wrote The Howling trilogy) and Whitley Strieber (writer of The Wolfen) are playfully achieved through minor characters with the same last names as the authors. The wink-wink references are guaranteed to amuse horror aficionados.
Apex Predator is a first novel. Parts of the story exhibit a rough around the edges quality. The start of the book is rather tentative, but the narrative gains momentum as it moves along. An abundance of peripheral personages proves distracting, but there’s no denying that S.M. Douglas is intelligent and potentially a very fine writer. It will be interesting to see how the author fares with the sequel.