Rupert Wallis takes on some big themes in his laudably ambitious debut novel: the mysteries of good and evil, expiation and forgiveness.
The book tells the story of 13-year-old James. James’ mother has been killed in a car accident, and both he and his step-father are coping with their grief in their own way, and in isolation. James’ step-father is a violent, frightening figure, no wonder then that the boy is drawn to the homeless man he finds in the abandoned house he’s been using as a refuge. The man, Webster, has his own demons. A soldier who fought in Iraq he is haunted by what he’s witnessed and, what’s more, convinced that he’s cursed. Come the next full moon, and he will transform into a werewolf.
Wallis doesn’t make clear whether this is the case, or not, but Webster and James believe it is, and so do the book’s genuinely terrifying characters, an evil circus-master and his witch-like mother. The plot becomes a race against the passing days, as Webster and James struggle to escape from their captors before the month ends. Gradually we realise that there’s only one way for Webster to set himself free; for James, it will depend on his ability to forgive.
Wallis writes very well, and while the plot occasionally feels repetitive and perhaps promises slightly more that it ultimately delivers, this is an unusual and truly original story, atmospheric, intelligent, and thought-provoking. I was caught up enough in the story to be moved to tears, and found myself thinking about the story long after I had finished the book.