Tangled Web UK Review August 2006
File Updated: 20/08/2006

Buy at Amazon Price Bareback Bareback by Kit Whitfield
hbk out August 06 Published by Cape at 12.99

Katharine Whitfield studied English at Cambridge in the 1990s, and attended the UEA creative writing MA. None of this has prevented her from writing the most original novel in a long time.
Lola Galley is the scarred veteran of years working for DORLA the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Affairs. But this is not a world like our own where lycanthropy is a burden for the very few. Lola's world is the very opposite lycanthropy is the fate of the normal citizen, and those poor souls who are not able to be transformed on the night of the full moon are looked down on. However, they do have their uses. Historically, the Church feared that something evil could be going on when people changed, or 'luned'. So to protect themselves, those who didn't change were drafted into the Order of St Giles Aegidus to make sure that those who were luning didn't break free of their self-imposed confines. Through the centuries, their role has essentially remained the same, but their existence is barely tolerated by the lycanthropic majority. They are a necessary evil, scorned as 'skins' or more nastily, 'barebacks'.
Lola's problems multiply when she brings in a lune called Ellaway, who has bitten off the hand of her friend Johnny Marcos. He claims his car broke down and he was too far from a refuge, so what happened was an accident. Lola fears he will get away with this defence, and is very suspicious of his activities. She tracks his movements down to a group who meet at the house of Lewis Albin. Then Johnny Marcos is murdered. She pulls in the whole group of lycos, and subjects them to normal DORLA procedure indefinite incarceration without prospect of release, and violent interrogation. After all, a lyco's wounds will heal, or 'rick', at the time of the full moon. Lola suspects something big is going on, and when her new boy-friend Paul Kelsey is implicated in the group, she is determined to find out what it is.
This is Kit Whitfield's first novel, though she has written non-fiction. And it is an impressive beginning. The alternative world she creates is consistent and believable. Yet all the old myths from our world are there too. The only way to stop a lyco as a last resort is with a silver bullet, which unless treated will fester in the wound and eventually kill. The contradiction between the power of DORLA agents to do as they please, and yet having to live a life of relative poverty and exclusion, only confirms how values are turned upside down in this lyco-dominated world. Whitfield apparently deliberately chose to use the term 'bareback' as the derogatory word for non-lycos due to its sexual connotations in the gay community in the UK. However, her US publishers fought shy of it, as the term is said to be even more extreme and prevalent there. They feared its use would obscure the target market, and used 'Benighted' . Yet, there can be no single market for this book. Is it a crime/mystery novel, or a science fiction story? Alternative worlds tale or social commentary? The simple answer is that it is a seriously entertaining novel with all those elements interwoven into it. Read it and enjoy.


( Ian Morson Author of Falconer books and short listed for 1999 Ellis Peters Historical Crime Dagger)

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