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Amazon, following Dreamspinner Press's lead, lists the book with a colon instead of a slash between the two words in the title. Don't let the punctuation mislead you. And don't be put off by the androgynous figure on the cover. What you are getting here is two hard-hitting novels for the price of one. In each a serial killer is at work. In both the hero is private investigator Roan McKichan. He is an ex-cop who left the force after a near-murderous outburst of his sometimes violent temper. Both novels prove that "Roan was a born investigator, he was almost supernaturally good at it [...]. Mundane private detective work was never going to completely satisfy him; he needed meatier puzzles, he needed challenges to make him feel useful."
His former partner on the force, Gordo Sikorski, recognizes this fact about Roan and uses him without compunction whenever a police investigation becomes too difficult or too messy. Roan's mate, Paris Lehane, resents Sikorski's manipulative laziness. But he recognizes this about Roan: "He felt totally abandoned by people, by society, and yet he wanted to help them, because maybe that would allow him to be a part of them in some way. [...] It was a terrible cliche, but even Roan just wanted to be loved."
Roan and Paris are outcasts by virtue of being werecats: Roan is a werelion from birth; Paris is a weretiger by infection. Using the template of AIDS, the author has created an alternate world in which a terrible plague can turn people into one of five varieties of werecats. Paris has to undergo the most terrible transformations. In a poignant note, both he and Roan are aware that his life span will be short: weretigers rarely live far into their 30s. As for Roan, "Most of the infected had no cat skills when they weren't transformed [...]. But as a virus child, Roan had some side effects that lingered no matter what his form." His acute hearing and his sense of smell often aid his investigations. There is a hint that his two forms are, in fact, merging.
In the first novel, INFECTED, a new variety of werecat has turned deadly killer. His first victim is a retired police officer, killed not far from where Roan and Paris live. In fact, for a while both men fear that Paris may have inadvertently been the killer since he has gone through an unexpected transformation that very night. Then five more people are struck down by the beast. What is the link among the victims? Roan is convinced that when he discovers the commonality, he will find the killer.
A subplot involves a runaway teenager who has become fascinated by "trans-porn," videos posted on the internet of werecats during their period of transformation. The search for the boy leads Roan into yet another undesirable encounter with a man he regards as his nemesis: Eli Winters. Aka Elijah Prophet, he is the leader of a cult, the Church of the Divine Transformation, which uses such teen fascination with the strange and the occult to find its members. Roan often has to be physically restrained when he is around Eli, his antipathy to the man is so strong.
Thus it is quite unexpected when, in PREY, Eli hires Roan to find a serial killer who is murdering infected young persons, particularly women. Roan suspects that Eli has an invested interest in discovering the killer, but Roan's need to help others overrules his distaste for the egotistical womanizer. He finds a hate-monger group at work, and both his and Paris's lives are placed in jeopardy. During the course of the investigation Paris demonstrates his own great courage and his level-headedness.
Given the current popularity of vampires and werewolves, I wonder why werecats have not entered the popular imagination to a greater extent. Montague Summers merely lists examples of other were-animals in his monumental study of the werewolf (1933). According to him, werecats appear across an array of cultures. Summers himself, however, was not interested enough to devote a study to them. The most famous example in popular culture remains the two film versions of Cat People (1942 and 1982), with werepanthers. The original film left its imprint on Manuel Puig's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN in all of its various manifestations. Otherwise, werecats seem to have made little impact.
The editor-in-chief of the Comixtreme website, Speed creates a coherent alternate reality that allows her great play with ideas and emotions as she overlays it onto the hard-boiled private eye tradition. Using gay characters for her leads adds a certain resonance to her portrayal of social outcasts, not to mention allowing for all sorts of symbolic readings into the situations. Though Dreamspinner specializes in "gay romance," the two novels are hard-headed and clear about the complexities of human relationships, and nothing about either of them is really erotic. Speed's command of language and her eye for the telling detail sweep both stories along, making for compelling reads. She has posted other novels in the series on her personal website.
§ Drewey Wayne Gunn, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is author of THE GAY MALE SLEUTH IN PRINT AND FILM (2005) and editor of THE GOLDEN AGE OF GAY FICTION (2009), a collection of essays, including his own "Down These Queer Streets a Man Must Go," and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Benjamin Franklin Award.
Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, October 2010
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