“Skin Trade” by George R R Martin – atmospheric werewolf tale that has themes in common with “Game Of Thrones”

skin trade “Skin Trade”, was published in the “Night Visions 5” anthology in 1989, and won the World Fantasy Award for best novella.

I picked it up because I wanted to see how it compared to  “The Wolf’s Hour”  by Robert McCammon, which was also published in 1989, a year when werewolf novels were not a common phenomenon.

Where, “The Wolf’s Hour” is a long, dark, sometimes lyrical, journey from the frozen forests of post-revolutionary Russia through to the heart of Nazi Germany, “Skin Trade” is a short, brutal, noirish, vision of an American city secretly governed by werewolves.

Wrapped in the skin of a conventional story of a hard-boiled (albeit female) private detective with a past, investigating a brutal crime that brings back memories of a personal tragedy, is an edgy, bloody, violent, werewolf horror story to chill your bones.

The pace is slower than a modern version of this tale would be but, for the most part, this adds to the tension. The point of view in the story switches between the human, female, hard-assed private detective and her asthmatic-as-a-human-but-not-as-a-wolf, debt-collecting, werewolf (“That’s lycanthrope to you, Schmuck. It’s a medical condition) friend.

The audiobook handles this by having two narrators. Each does a good job independently but the cutting between them, especially at the beginning, is a little rough and the two do not mimic each other’s voices. This is a minor imperfection that did not spoil the book for me.

The story reeks of blood and fear. It also contains a number of references that “Game Of Thrones” fans will recognize: strong, dangerous women, Dire Wolves, flayings, heroics from apparently weak/disabled characters and cryptic references to dark forces from another world that come to hunt the hunters.

If you have three and half hours to spare and want to open your mind to a different kind of werewolf tale, curl up in an armchair, preferably close to the fire, and listen to “Skin Trade”.

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