The Beast of Barcroft by Bill Schweigart
Ben McKelvie believes he’s moving up in the world when he and his fiancée buy a house in the cushy Washington, D.C., suburb of Barcroft. Instead, he’s moving down—way down—thanks to Madeleine Roux, the crazy neighbor whose vermin-infested property is a permanent eyesore and looming hazard to public health.
First, Ben’s fiancée leaves him; then, his dog dies, apparently killed by a predator drawn into Barcroft by Madeleine’s noxious menagerie. But the worst is yet to come for Ben, for he’s not dealing with any ordinary wild animal. This killer is something much, much worse. Something that couldn’t possibly exist—in this world.
Now, as a devilish creature stalks the locals, Ben resolves to take action. With some grudging assistance from a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the crackpot theories of a self-styled cryptozoologist, he discovers the sinister truth behind the attacks, but knowing the Beast of Barcroft and stopping it are two different animals.
I’ll be honest; this novel caught me completely unaware. I was looking for something to fill a gap in my reviewing schedule, and was fortunate enough to pick up an e-copy via Net Galley. I had absolutely no idea what to expect going in and I’m happy to report that I was more than a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Turns out, The Beast of Barcroft is a pretty good example of the horror genre and is bloody entertaining to boot.
Ben McKelvie is a bit of a mess as a human being. His life is all over the place and if there is a wrong action to take you can almost guarantee that he’ll take it. The interesting thing is that this makes him a particularly good protagonist. Flawed characters are always far more intriguing to follow in my opinion. Ben makes mistakes, he is fallible, and it shows. There have been too many times in the past when a character comes across as perfect in every way and that drives me more than a little bit bonkers. In this instance it quickly becomes obvious the Ben is an entirely ordinary person who finds himself in the midst of a truly extraordinary situation. His actions and reactions to the various horrors he is forced to witness were one of the book’s real highlights for me.
The other characters are also quite well established. Needless to say, Ben can’t deal with his new non-human neighbour all on his own, so he needs to find allies to help him out. Lindsay Clark, a zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo, is initially sceptical but decides to give Ben the benefit of her experience. Lindsay also calls upon the expertise of Richard Severance, a crypto-zoologist, who is a bit more open to the possibility that the predator that is terrorising the small town might not be entirely natural. The final member of the dysfunctional little team is Dr. Alex Standingcloud. His expertise in Native American folklore and myth proves to be invaluable in their search.
If you enjoy your horror with a distinctly animalistic edge then I would recommend that you give The Beast of Barcroft a go. For less than the price of a small cup of coffee, Schweigart blends together a number of different mythologies to create a fun read that will appeal to any reader who enjoys their horror with bite.
The Beast of Barcroft is published by Hydra and is available now. A sequel, Northwoods, featuring some of the same characters, is due for release in February next year. I’ll be looking out for it.