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Bareback
Kit Whitfield
Jonathan Cape hardcover £12.99

review by Tony Lee

In TV's Buffy, wiccan student Willow ponders her troubled romance with Oz in a throwaway quip: "My boyfriend's a werewolf, but... not all the time." From such a notion, first-time novelist Kit Whitfield imagines a parallel world of lycanthropic majority rule, where non-wolfish humans are treated like second-class citizens. Battle-scarred veteran Lola May Galley is a 'bareback' lawyer and dogcatcher conscripted, following a dismal childhood, into the under-funded government agency that enforces a full moon curfew on transformed and potentially dangerous citizens. Her regular cases include hapless drunks, and stranded drivers who simply failed to reach a public shelter lockup before nightfall. But there are more sinister characters, like those 'lunes' forming monthly hunting parties with a seeming 'racial' hatred for the non-furry. Hard-bitten yet brittle Lola meets the sympathetic Paul Kelsey, a social worker by day and a 'lyco' by night. But is their unlikely friendship any basis for a stable romance?

There are several other quirky elements in Bareback, but few obvious genre reference points because this is essentially a mainstream crime novel, with a supporting cast list of grieving widows and little orphans, maimed colleagues, murdered relatives, wealthy crooks with slick defence counsellors, and even nastier villains. Contemporary urban setting aside, Whitfield knows how to embellish a good horror story with lots of telling details, and it's no surprise that Warner Bros have bought the film rights (for a reported six-figure sum) to such a resolutely populist book of hybrid fiction. Apart from historical links to the Inquisition, the backstory of this alternative world is neglected as Whitfield prefers to focus on the troubles of her principal character, exploring Lola's personal problems and professional struggles in great detail, often at the expense of Bareback's intriguing genre scenario. As a result, the werewolf content is muted throughout, and readers expecting a bloodthirsty horror-fest are likely to be disappointed.
Bareback

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