Written by Thomas Tessier
Published by Leisure Books
I really didn’t know what to expect going into The Nightwalker. Despite the glowing praise given to it by Jack Ketchum in his intro, Tessier’s always been a hit-or-miss author with me. Considering the book was first published in 1979, though, I held out hope that I’d be in for something original.
Indeed, The Nightwalker is probably one of the most original werewolf novels ever written, in so much that it’s not about a man who turns into a beast by the light of the full moon and stalks its prey. Instead, it’s about a man who has episodes that seem, from a psychological standpoint, like psychotic breaks more than anything else. That kind of instability would be understandable, too, since our lead, Bobby, is a Vietnam vet trying to make a life for himself in London.
Of course Bobby never really saw any combat while in ‘Nam. He had his fair share of run-ins with death, of course, but never really got in the thick of things like most vets you hear about going crazy. But when Bobby goes crazy, he really does act like an animal; shredding skin, tearing muscle and partially eating his victims. But he’s conscious of what he’s doing the whole time, which is probably the worst part for the guy.
After his girlfriend is killed, he meets a younger homeless girl who lets him do all manner of fucked up things to her, things you would only really do if you were being paid for it, one would hope. She goes along with it, though, since she needs a place to live, but eventually there’s a serious bond formed between them, even though Bobby can never really tell her what goes on in that head of his.
Eventually she’s killed, however, during one of Bobby’s breaks, and the only person Bobby can think to go to is a young medium who seems to know exactly what he is, not that she has any idea what to do about it. Bobby begs for help, she agrees to try keeping him in a sparse, spare room she has and maintain strict control over his eating habits in the hopes that will somehow help him conquer the beast.
So what really is going on with Bobby anyway? Is he actually transforming into a werewolf when the mood strikes him? Is he just crazy and loosing it on a regular basis? We’re never really too sure as he never stops to give us a clear explanation of how he looks when he changes, but people don’t seem to react well to him when they see it.
Ultimately The Nightwalker is the story about loneliness, though. Because of Bobby’s condition he feels he is the only person in the world suffering, swinging from moments of clarity of vision and direction to the depths of self-loathing and confusion as to what is going on around him. He’s a man with obvious serious psychological disturbances, which have more than likely been with him since long before we meet him, and pain caused to those around him because of it.
Whether or not it is a good story is very hard for me to come to grips with, however, as it’s so far away from traditional horror and/or werewolf books that I really didn’t come away with any strong feelings for it one way or another. Sure, it’s an interesting take on werewolf mythology, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth seeking out.
The novel also includes a short story from Tessier, “The Dreams of Dr. Ladybank”, which is actually a much more interesting story. That seems to happen a lot with these novel/novella combos from Leisure. The tale is about the titular doctor who figures out how he control the minds of two very disturbed men. He makes them both do some horrible things for his amusement, and nothing ends well at all. It’s a quick, interesting read and, coupled with the strangeness that is The Nightwalker, lead me to recommend this one to anyone looking for something out of the ordinary. If nothing else, Tessier is great at delivering that!
3 out of 5
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