The best part of reading Lou Yardley’s excellent werewolf novel, “Hellhound,” is a very basic, very underrated, very underappreciated thing: it’s the writing. Horror writers often excel at creating eerie atmosphere, summoning terror, or what Stephen King called “the gross-out,” and while Yardley is gifted in all three respects, her work has something else that many supernatural novels lack: the ability to write a good story. “Hellhound” is a guessing game that keeps its readers in suspense and teases with a deft skill reminiscent of the corkscrew plots of Ambrose Bierce: like so many of his ghost stories and psychological thrillers, this is a tale that merits a second and then a third read.
The story takes place at a sinister London pub named The Hound and The Philosopher where secrets live in the shadows and behind the walls. We are introduced to two wayward characters – an unemployed man named Kit (who has just bombed a job interview for answering the question “what kind of animal are you?” with the Poe-esque reply “A worm”), and a bored loiterer named Christine (who buries herself in her “People Avoidance Device” – her cell phone) who have the misfortune of walking into this werewolf-run establishment at exactly the wrong time. Cheeky, vulgar, and brutally gory, the novel follows their unwitting uncovering of a vast conspiracy with a thoroughly English blend of black humor, Gothic indulgence, and mind-blasting horror.
Characterization is a strength of Yardley’s writing, and one which is so often lacking in modern horror fiction. She excels at making her characters relatable, realistic, and engaging, and succeeds at the Gothic trope of the vulnerable outsider stumbling into a dangerous situation, without leaning on predictability. Instead, her characters are fleshed out, 3-dimensional entities whom we follow with genuine interest as they navigate a world dominated by hidden evil. Indeed, while Yardley is adroit at the understated art of characterization and plot development, she doesn’t neglect the one quality that makes a horror novel utterly indulgent: atmosphere. This is a read which is not only good for you (I say with the smarmy authority of an English professor), but is tasty. The plot steams with corruption and fear, and the universe we enter into is one of oppressive darkness spilling through every window and door like a yellow, London fog.
I often have little trouble finding the good in a piece of writing that has a decent structure, good intentions, and inspired atmosphere, but with this story I didn’t need to lean back and think: it was obvious from the first chapter that this was a good one, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys werewolf fiction, corkscrew plots, solid characters, or just a good scare.