The grisly tale of a truly loopy loup
THE FLESH EATER. By John Gordon. Walker Pounds 9.99. REEF OF DEATH. By Paul Zindel. Bodley Head Pounds 9.99. JUSTICE OF THE DAGGER. By James Watson. Puffin Pounds 4.99.
Wolves, whether literal or metaphorical, are flavour of the month in teen fiction. In Lone Wolf, for instance, isolated Perry Dubois believes the soulful howl he hears from his secret hideout in the woods is expressing his own alienation. He chooses to ignore the fact that it more probably suggests meaningful communication between members of a pack.
Nor does he want to admit that life might be happier if he accepts the companionship offered by the Pestalozzi family, whose warmth and mayhem have the power to heal old fam-ilial disputes.
Through the Pestalozzis (relatives of the progressive educationist, surely), Perry discovers there can be more to life than learning primitive cave-painting techniques and reading glossy books on lupine habits and habitats. Franklin offers a convincing endorsement of the worth of friendship - the book has the comfort value of Amy MacDonald's Little Beaver and the Echo, a Walker classic for younger children - but avoids mawkishness and schmaltz.
John Gordon offers a wolf of a different order. This grisly tale is largely concerned with the mission of a power-crazed "master" and his sister apprentice to resuscitate a 12th-century French cannibal corpse once feared as the Marais Loup, or Wolf of the Marshes.
At first the siblings salivate over their success, and the bizarrely named Mary-Lou proves more than ready for his meat and no veg. Regular readers of teen horror will be prepared for the bones and the rows of grinning teeth - but surely not for the flexibility of those unrotted tendons, still like strong elastic bands after eight centuries. As Mary-Lou lopes and lumbers across huge distances, the oddball sister can relish his excesses from her very own blousy boudoir, thanks to a convenient telepathic capacity.
Don't worry, she'll get her comeuppance - as will Dr Ecenbarger, her sassy, sexy, "so-nice-to-eat-you" equivalent in Paul (The Pigman) Zindel's Reef of Death. Zindel's variation on the sadistic genius, complete with tightly-buttoned white coat and stilettos, prefers a front-row seat when witnessing the annihilation of selected victims by her cherished monsters of the deep.
The blurb promises "a gruesome read", and that's what you get. When our boy hero, PC McPhee, runs into trouble on the Great Barrier Reef, his Aboriginal girlfriend Maruul is on hand to sort things out with an electric eel. She's much relieved to have him back in one piece, having seen her brother reduced to a veritable jigsaw puzzle. I won't be alone in asking whether quite so much sado-erotic voyeurism is necessary.
Relatively wholesome horror can be found in James Watson's understated political thriller, which takes an environmental predicament in East Timor as its starting point. In Hans Mueller, or Greenboots, we find an earnest idealist, determined to protect an imperilled rain forest community whose environment has almost been stripped bare by "Yellow Giant" bulldozers. Readers are made aware of the implications of deforestation, but the tone is neither hectoring nor unnecessarily brutal.
For example, when the dastardly tyrant Salem (aka Butcher in Shades) is castrated by his intended victim, Watson's treatment of the episode is as deft and subtle as the effects in the Gordon and Zindel books are sensational.