Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Wolf Trial: a novel by Neil Mackay

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The Wolf Trial by Neil Mackay (Read: April 2016)
Pages: 352
Publisher: Freight Books (21 April 2016)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley


Sheer breathtaking brilliance ... a near perfect 5 ... Oh why not...the perfect 5 !

Where do I start with this one ? There is just so much going on in this 16th Century historical fact based novel.  I kid you not, here is a teaser of what's going on in this blockbuster:

Gothic horror, cruelty and debauchery
circus freak shows
witch, and dog trials, including graphic execution scenes
vampires and werewolves
serial murder of women, men, children and babies
torture and more executions
oh and a smidgen of romance !

Written in the 1st person narrative, Neil Mackay's 'The Wolf Trial' is an uncomfortable, absolutely compelling tale set in Bideburg, Germany during the 16th Century about the first documented case of a serial killer who was also believed to be a werewolf.

Peter Stumpf, the accused, makes no bones about his guilt of the murders but as a man and not as a werewolf.  However, his crimes are just too horrific for the townsfolk to accept that a human being could commit such crimes that they choose to believe in the supernatural and for him to be a werewolf.

Paulus Melchior and Willy Lessinger are to be witnesses to this trial and subsequent punishment of Stumpf.  It is from William Loos' (the scribes) documentation some 60 years later that we hear about Paulus' childhood and events that shaped him into the man he became; such as his first public execution and watching his father beheading a woman found guilty of being a witch. The horrific scene unfolds and he watches as other children delightedly play football with the severed woman's head.

Many scenes in this book are shocking and vividly depicted, another of which includes the accused's rendition of a game he played as a child called 'frogging', which again is pretty horrific, especially for the frogs. Frog lovers be warned!
There is however, a touching, love affair between Willy and a young girl from the town, albeit with a tragic outcome.

The punishment is brutal, torturous and unbelievably barbaric, the unnecessary violence metered out to Stumpf is almost unbearable to read. It is hard to feel pity for a person who has committed such horrendous crimes but it is abhorrent and frightening to believe the extent humans will go to inflict pain on each other.  The crowd's vengeance and excitement is whipped up to such a crescendo, and to the point of sheer boredom, that they finally lose interest when nothing more can be done to prolong the agony of dying a slow, brutally degrading death.

The real horror for me is that we all have the potential to be monsters and that in today's world where videos are frequently uploaded showing the most horrific scenes of violence, torture and murder, with a majority in the name of religion or honour, I fear that we've not moved much farther forward than our medieval predecessors and that these practices are still all too evident in today's world.

The Wolf Trial is hugely rich in historical detail and also a coming of age tale during violent medieval times. I thoroughly enjoyed all it had to tell me and found it to be an engrossing read.  It is brutal, blood thirsty and bloody brilliant ! Definitely not for the squeamish but if you have a strong stomach you'll definitely not want to miss out on this one.

Perfect for fans of atmospheric reads such as Umberto Ecco's, In The Name of The Rose.

Disclaimer: I received a digital advanced readers copy (ARC) of 'The Wolf Trial' by Neil Mackay from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

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