Review: 'Corpus Lupus', by Phil Geusz
Werewolf fiction is borderline-anthropomorphic, and Corpus Lupus is especially so. At least these werewolves are sentient, not feral dumb beasts. But the narrator, homicide detective Lieut. Larry Highridge, and his Pack spend most of their time in this novel in human form. It is a good murder mystery/horror novel, if a rather repulsive one; just not a very anthropomorphic one.
Corpus Lupus, first written between 1998 and 2000, has the reputation of being Phil Geusz’s “darkest and most disturbing work” (WikiFur), and it is easy to see why. The setting is a world where magic is real, but necromantic magic – involving death – is the only controllable kind.
Highridge is a narcotics detective who was bitten by a werewolf, becoming one himself. He refuses to let his condition affect him any more than possible, and is transferred to the homicide department as a specialist in investigating murders committed for necromantic purposes, to give the killer magical powers. Since the most powerful killings involve the torture and mutilation of victims, he becomes hardened to being given the police’s “sloppiest” murders, often those of young children.
Ridgecrest, CA, The Raccoon’s Bookshelf, March 2006, trade paperback * (i + 236 pages).
Birmingham, AL, Legion Printing, October 2010, hardcover $18.99, trade paperback $9.99 * (both i + 236 pages), Kindle $8.99.
Worse, Highridge is usually required to work with a representative of the Guild of Necromancers. Since necromancy is a fact of life (so to speak), governments want to control and regulate it as much as possible. The Guild is an international agency of licensed practitioners, very closely monitored by their governments to ensure that they operate as socially responsibly as possible. Since their power comes from killing, they have become their countries’ or states’ executioners in all death-penalty cases. As those are not enough to give them the power that they need, the authorities have reluctantly allowed them to call for volunteers to be killed, such as those with terminal illnesses or the extreme elderly, who are willing to die for the public good. It is Highmore’s opinion that most necromancers, even if they are officially approved, enjoy their work too much. To quote WikiFur again, “As a homicide detective, Highridge must work closely with the Guild and over time his life becomes as stained and twisted as those of the necromancers themselves.”
In addition to his grisly detective work, Highridge has to deal with becoming a wolf once a month. Wolves are social animals, and Highridge is required both legally and instinctually to join a Pack. Since the afflicted are only wolves once a month, they are human most of the time. Highridge is fighting his curse and prefers to socialize with his fellow policemen rather than his fellow werewolves. Unfortunately the Pack Alpha, Pete Byrd, a retired auto body-and fender man, is a petty tyrant who tries to rule the Pack as a full-time social group, and to boss Highridge and the others around as much as possible. According to Pack tradition, Highridge either has to take it or challenge Pete in a werewolf battle for the Alpha position. Highridge is confidant that he would win, but this would make him the new Alpha; a permanent responsibility that he does not want. However, most of the rest of the Pack is tired of Pete’s bullying and they are pushing Highridge into taking him on. Finally, both morally and instinctually, he has to Challenge, knowing that Pete will use the opportunity to try to kill him: a fight to the death, and he can only win by killing Pete, making him legally a murderer, too.
This is just in “Corpus Lupus”, the first of the three adventures woven together in this novel. In “Pit Wolf” and “Loop Garou”, Highridge is assigned to investigate new murders, always worse than the ones before. “Larry, we’ve got a bad situation here. A really bad one,” his police supervisor tells him in “Pit Wolf” (p. 70):
But something had other ideas. Something big and black and powerful and full of hatred beyond all human understanding. For just a bare moment it was formless and vague, then it melted and flowed into an evilly twisted caricature of the huge black wolf of my recent nightmare. The big canine loped easily into the room, effortlessly dangling the bloody pelvis of a woman in black-toothed jaws. Then contemptuously the thing circled around me, took up a position between me and the exit, laid down, and returned to its previous task, that of devouring the hated vagina out of the disembodied pelvis. As the eerie light fickered and guttered I could see that the monstrosity was bisexual, with dark and impossibly swollen organs. It fornicated with itself continuously, the rat-like tail thumping the ground gently in time with each thrust. (pgs. 76-77)
With the aid of the Guild of Necromancers, Highridge takes on the form of “a particularly friendly, ordinary wolf” (p. 99) to get close enough to the demon-wolf (properly an Artifact, but the differences between an Artifact and a true demon-wolf are too technically extensive to go into here) to banish it from this Plane. Matters do not work out as expected …
In “Loop Garou”, Highridge is called into Chicago as an outside consultant to investigate what may be a series of werewolf killings, although all the Chicago Packs swear that none of their members are involved. With Highridge is the Artifact, now tamed and transformed into “Artie”, a more wolflike-appearing familiar. As before, Highridge is expected to work with the Guild of Necromancers – this time led by an apparent young boy named Dr. Mengle. But Highridge learns that most of the victims are necromancers; in fact, there are secret assassins trying to kill all of the all-powerful necromancers on Earth. (The assassins could be called anthropomorphic, although they seem more sci-fi alien.)
By this time, Highridge has drifted almost completely away from regular police work, and the Guild is actively trying to recruit him into joining it. As I said, Corpus Lupus is a combination of a police procedural and a horror novel, with considerable necromantic wizardry and a few examples of man-into-wolf transformations; but it is not really an anthropomorphic novel. But if you can take a few nauseating scenes and you like black magic suspense fantasies, you will enjoy it very much.
Corpus Lupus has a convoluted history. Geusz originally wrote it as three separate short stories between 1998 and 2000. In 2004 The Raccoon’s Bookshelf offered to publish them together as a novel. Geusz extensively rewrote them to make a better single novel. The Raccoon’s Bookshelf published this first edition in January 2005 as a 190-page comb-bound book with color illustrations for $12 (TSAT review). In March 2006 The Raccoon’s Bookshelf republished it as the present 236-page trade paperback for $14.99, unillustrated but with an author photograph added.
When The Raccoon’s Bookshelf went out of business as a publisher (it still exists as a bookstore), its unsold stock and publication files for Corpus Lupus (and Geusz’s other TRB novel, Transmutation NOW!) were transferred to Legion Printing, which has republished them in hardcover, tp, and Kindle versions. Legion’s $9.99 price for the tp is cheaper than TRB’s $14.99, but Legion requires a separate $5.00 shipping & handling fee.
* Legion Printing has taken over The Raccoon’s Bookshelf stock of the tp edition and is selling them as well as its own edition. For both hardcover and trade paperbacks sold by Legion Publishing, add $5.00 for shipping & handling.