The settlers who would later be known as the four families went west and laid claim to a patch of frontier wilderness. They sought to eek out a humble existence. Even this humble existence proved difficult to obtain. The settlers’ future was bleak. Whether it be repelling Indian Incursions or those of Mother Nature each day was a new battle waiting to be waged. After much bloodshed and back breaking work the city began to flourish on the back of the industries that had sprung up. The Foundry, The Metalsmith, The Stockyard, The Riverboats and The Skin Trade.
Decades later the industries that had built the city began to vanish and along with them prosperity. The once proud city’s head now hung in shame. Its denizens forced to once more scrounge to stay alive. Unfortunately for the descendents of the four families one industry had been revitalized; The Skin Trade. Only now the hunters were not content with beaver felts, they sought a different kind of felt from much more dangerous prey. A prey that was used to being the hunter not the hunted. The prey they sought was the werewolf.
Now when I’m reading a story about a supernatural being whether it is a ghost, a vampire or in this case a werewolf I love it when the commonly held mythos of the said creature is thrown out the window and the author builds up his own original mythology around the creature. In The Skin Trade George Martin does just that. Martin takes the werewolf and reimagines him in such a way that leaves us the reader saying “that’s an interesting take on the werewolf.”
The word werewolf for whatever reason conjures up in my mind a guy named Gaston. He’s a rugged outdoorsman whose profession is that of a lumberjack. He’s strapping and in peak physical condition. He exudes manliness which allows him to have his way with women. Don’t ask me why that’s just the first thing I think of when I hear werewolf. From the very beginning Martin shatters my preconception of what it means to be a werewolf.
We’re introduced to our main protagonist Willie Flambeaux. He’s short and scrawny while maintaining a healthy gut. He’s asthmatic and earns his living as a collection agent. (It becomes a lot easier to collect an outstanding debt when you’re able to morph into a ravenous werewolf at the drop of a hat.) While not exactly a lady’s man he is however quite horny as evidenced by his constant sexual harassment of his friend and private investigator Randi Wade (whom is a woman if anyone was thrown off by the name.) Randi brings her own set of issues to the table as far as werewolves go. Her father, a police officer, was mauled to death many years ago by what was reported to be a “large dog.”
The banter between Willie and Randi is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this novella as the two have some genuinely funny quips they throw at each other. I’m not usually one to laugh while reading a novel but a chuckle did escape a time or two while reading this story. Despite their banter though it’s obvious that the two of them do care for each other. It’s this genuine compassion that gives this story legs. Without it this novella would’ve been just another whodunit with werewolves thrown in. As it stands it is an intriguing mystery with werewolves thrown in. Scratch that (pun intended), fully realized characters thrown in.
To sum up the plot werewolves are being killed for their fur coats. Willie goes to Randi for help in figuring out the who and the why. Throughout the story as the two investigate nothing is as it first appears. One minute you think you have it all figured out only to be completely befuddled at a twist Martin throws in. These twists are constant throughout the story but they work so well. Martin continues to leave us little clue after little clue making us turn each page hoping to figure out what’s going on.
Unless you’re a better detective then me, nothing will become clear until the last ten pages. I don’t want to give anything away but the way Martin handles the climax of the book is excellent. It leaves you with bated breathe waiting to see what fate holds in store for both Willile and Randi as they see both their investigations to a conclusion.
This is a novella that anyone who likes werewolves, mysteries and a lot of bloodshed is really going to enjoy. Some parts do fall a little flat but overall it’s a satisfying read.
POSTSCRIPT: I really hate having to use the word novella for stories like this. Someone needs to come up with something better to call it.