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Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
Wolf's Trap
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WOLF'S TRAP - 2006
by W.D Gagliani
Leisure Books

For those of you who come here strictly for the Horror, move on please, nothing to see here.

Oh sure, the book cover and blurbs allude to a werewolf, and in fact, there is a werewolf to be found, but WOLF'S TRAP spends more time with the bad guy, Martin, and his shenanigans, than it does with Detective Lupo and his "condition".

In other words, this is not horror at all, and certainly nothing scary happens. What WOLF'S TRAP is, is a gory cop/drama/thriller. And it follows the standard cop/thriller to a "T". Homicidal maniac in the city wants to be "caught" by a specific police officer, so that the killer can really catch the cop. These stories have existed for decades long before writers like Thomas Harris, Jeffery Deaver, Andrew Kevin Walker and more permanently etched them into American pop psyche with movies like RED DRAGON, THE BONE COLLECTOR, and SEVEN. Dirty Harry had his. Even good old Chuck Norris did a couple of movies like this back in the 1980s. There was at least two episodes of Baretta like this and one episode of Columbo. But what Harris, Deaver, Walker, and others did in the 1980s was make such cop Thrillers GORY! They reveled in the gore and twisted psyches of their killers, who were either mentally deranged and powerful, or mentally deranged but smart. But as gory and repulsive as they were, except for Walker, they weren't scary. As far as I can tell, only Walker, so far, has done Cop Horror Thriller.

Indeed, the bloody kills described in WOLF'S TRAP aren't represented as horrific, scary, or terrifying aspects of a frightening crime perpetrated by a monster, but by a weak cross-dressing freak of a cunning homicidal maniac barely in control of his mania and the childhood trauma that created him. Sort of a cross between Bloch's Norman Bates and Thomas Harris' Buffalo Bill. Understand that I'm no psychology major, but even so, the explanations of Martin's behavior didn't "gel" for me. I didn't find it believable at all no matter how many times Gagliani worked Martin's depraved and victimized past over and over again throughout the book. At one point, it appears Gagliani couldn't make it work for him either, so he settled with an extra explanation: Martin was born twisted, waiting for something, anything, to make him snap. That simpler explanation helped a whole lot and the story picks up after that.

But that doesn't happen until well after the middle of the book. The first half devotes so much time to Martin and the mechanics of his condition, that the tale of a werewolf, takes more than a backseat - it doesn't even appear until well past about two thirds of the novel. In fact, the first time the werewolf finally 'becomes", it kills a rabbit in the forest. One massive giant werewolf, nibbles so daintily at a rabbit that there is not only plenty left for forest scavengers after the werewolf moves on, but there is plenty of carcass left for humans to discover the next day. Now, it's a mountain forest, right? Dead half eaten animals in the woods are common. Yet the human who finds the carcass just knows that the rabbit was killed by a huge wolf. How? Just a regular sized wolf or dog for that matter would leave little more than a few tufts of fur. This giant werewolf leaves enough of a carcass that the even night scavengers can't eat it all.

What WOLF'S TRAP is really about is Martin: the man who will set the trap. Martin is after Police Detective Nick Lupo, who he believes to be a werewolf. Why he's after Nick and why he believes what he does is slowly revealed throughout the novel like a good whodunit. When Martin kills someone, his butchery is described with such great forensic detail that it elicits more curiosity than fear or revulsion. In fact, Gagliani forgets the first tenet of any scary story - to be scared we must feel for the victim. We aren't horrified by Martin's kills, because Gagliani never bothered with his victim's back story enough to make us care. They are not there so we can feel for their humanity, only to describe the things Martin does to them. And Martin makes his kills so quick that his victims barely have time to register awareness before they are dead. This then, is both the meat and meteir of a standard cop drama/thriller. The bad guy does bad things and he is trying to trap a cop in his web. The fact that Nick Lupo happens to be a werewolf is immaterial. If Nick never turned into a werewolf, the story would exist just fine.

Gagliani tries his hand at various aspects of werewolf mythos, but mainly sticks to author Curt Siodmak's legendary tried and true werewolf/wolfman mythos from THE WOLFMAN. Nothing new is established here and no tropes are broken: It's a supernatural curse; full moon brings changes, silver kills, "Oh shit I'm a werewolf, poor me!" same ol'. Some confetti having to do with American Indian myth and European folklore are tossed in, but not explored.

Yet despite all of that, the book really moves as a cop thriller - never boring and rarely drags. The last 50 or so pages are particularly adept at building the onrush of tension and you'll wish the rest of the novel was wrote so well.

There are a few stumbles here and there. There are plenty of detailed sex scenes, some involving rape and children, but very few of them move the story forward and at least half of them stop the book dead, forcing the next chapter to rev the engine again. There are also two side stories with strong characters introduced, a Police Lieutenant Bowen and a Police Psychologist Dr. Barrett. The brief wealth of detail about them and their effect on Lupo makes the reader think that more will happen, but nothing ever does.

This is formula Cop Thriller with Formula Werewolf thrown in. Even werewolf protagonist Lupo, like any good werewolf in hundreds of other novels and even a comic book series, bemoans, whines, and curses his curse - while in human form. Then he goes to a cabin in the mountains to cut loose. Horror author, Gary Bradner first broke this trope in 1979 with his coven of werewolves who enjoy their curse (and leave the city for the woods in the mountains), reveling in it, in THE HOWLING.

If I had gone into WOLF'S TRAP prepared for a cop thriller about a crazed serial killer instead of a horror novel about a werewolf, I'd probably have enjoyed it much more. Because while Gagliani wrote a formula novel, he followed the recipe well.

3 BookWyrms.

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This review copyright 2006 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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