Gift of the Bouda
Richard Farnsworth

Salvo Press
Trade Paper, 256 pages, $16.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

Hyenas are no laughing matter in Richard Farnsworth’s Gift of the Bouda. In this nifty tweaking of werewolf folklore, the were-hyena is top dog. Its bite is stronger, and no full moon is required for shapeshifting to take place. The “bouda” of the book’s title is an African term for this cantankerous canine. In Africa, Special Forces soldier Captain John Rogers fights the War on Terror, and becomes a creature of horror. Transformed by a bite, he bears the curse of the cur. Returning to The States, he dwells in the arid atmosphere of Nevada; dogged by memories of his desert past.

Author Farnsworth does a fine job reflecting the duality and moral ambiguity of Rogers. Possessing the training and instincts of a skilled killer, in both his human and altered state, the character’s cunning and wiles make him perpetually battle ready. The novel packs on the action in scenes involving werewolves, a geeky wannabe occultist, a black magic woman, a gun tottin’ mama, and a stripper who turns tricks.

Honey, the trick turning exotic dancer, is a friend and potential love interest of the divorced protagonist. After a john she has rolled is murdered while she is hiding on the premises, Honey goes on the run. Seems a couple of items she removed from her client are sought by the guys who offed him. These aren’t ordinary thugs: They are lycanthropes. Rogers gets involved in supernatural skirmishes, but tries to restrain his baser animal traits in front of humans. This is hard with Honey, who once nearly brought out the bestial during intimate acts. Unconsummated in his lovemaking, but consumed with desire for flesh, Rogers is self-aware: “I hated that I loved shifting and hunting so much. Hunting was pure, and I had never felt this alive.”

The erstwhile family man, in addition to the ex-wife there’s a beloved young daughter, suffers from nightmares evincing his fears. Plagued by recurring bad dreams about killing and consuming those dearest to him: “The porch swing moaned as I leaned over to set the glass of sweet tea on the TV tray we used as an end table. But the glass no longer held cold tea; it was warm and filled with blood. The little drops I mistook for condensation were really beads of sweat as the glass became a thing alive. It still looked to be a tall glass, but it pulsed with life. A living vessel filled with blood, warm coppery blood that called to the beast inside me.”

Beasts abound in the book. The werewolf clans provide a clash of the canines, as each group has its own turf. Marking territory is power to the pack, and sometimes those markings involve brutal assaults on people. Throw an interloping were-hyena into the mix, and the urge to outfox each other gets more intense; a version of all is feral in love and war.

Gift of the Bouda is a refreshing change in the subgenre of shapeshifters. The back cover of Richard Farnsworth’s novel states: “The lycanthropy that infects his protagonist serves as a metaphor for soldiers’ experience in war, and those lingering post-traumatic after effects.” Whether read with that in mind or simply for entertainment value, this work by a former Army officer is worthwhile.

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