The horror genre has expanded to include everything from the magical and fantastical to the gory and sadistic. Werewolves have a long-standing tradition among horror stories and in many ways my novel, Bitten, harkens back to an older time. Coalescing a police procedural and urban fantasy into a volatile mix, the novel takes play in a barren landscape that is rife with danger.
What sets the novel apart is an adherence to being strange and also reinventing the werewolf mythology into something that it has not often been in horror consciousness. The story follows Lauren Westlake, a determined FBI agent, who has taken over a case that has been gathering dust for decades. The murders, while grisly, are odd to the say the least. The truth of the murders in Locke, Minnesota is far stranger than Lauren could have ever imagined
Here is what people have been saying about the novel:
“Bitten is an extremely well-balanced and engaging novel. It contains mystery, suspense, horror, romance, and best of all - a creative, genre-bending twist on werewolf mythology. The story is quick-paced and dark without being too heavy or overdramatic. The protagonist is a strong and courageous FBI agent who is able to assert herself without casting aside her femininity. She reminds me of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, and I am quite impressed with Dan O'Brien's ability to write a convincing female character from a male's perspective. Perhaps it is because her femininity does not define her, but rather adds to her complexity. The rest of the cast is also surprisingly well-developed given the short length of the book. Rather than prose description, the dialogue in Bitten is what makes the characters, giving the reader more of a sense that the interactions were actually witnessed. Even the mystical elements are fairly believable.
I had trouble putting the book down once I started reading. A fascinating fictional history and entertaining character interactions take the edge off of the horrific sequence of events that one strongly desires to see resolved. My single complaint would be the level of detail in some of the gore, but since it basically defines the beast's character it is a necessary component of the story. The details are not gratuitous, and the frequency of such descriptions is low enough that I never considered setting the book aside.
“I wish anyone reading this could have watched my facial expressions while I read Bitten. When was the last time you read a book that got real reactions out of you? I laughed out loud at times, stared at the page with a hand covering my open mouth in shock at others. That might seem dramatic but I got really into this story. This is a thriller taking place in the unlikely location of Minnesota. The main character, Lauren, is a strong woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. It is mostly a thriller but has some romance in it as well. I liked the romance parts but I liked more how the author didn't go overboard with the sultry glances, doomed romance thing. If you are a fan of horror films, you would like this book. Being a huge lover of all things macabre myself, I loved the way the creature was described, it was truly repulsive. Werewolf, paranormal romance type books are everywhere these days but the quirky characters in this story and the situations they encounter set it apart for me. I would definitely read the sequel, which I hear is in the works!”
“For some there will always be a fascination with discovering answers. Even if the questions that are raised are not always as cut and dry as we might think or be led to believe. For Lauren Westlake there is something about being "the one" to come to answer that not only intrigues her but drives her as well.
In BITTEN she gets a chance to not only find an answer to some mysterious murders that have been taking place over quite some time in a town much like the one you grew up in. Along the way, however, she stumbles upon more than she might have bargained for, and that is when things really get interesting.
What a great things about the way Dan O'Brien rolls out BITTEN is that you are not only able to see the world through the eyes of the humans involved but the very creature they are pursuing as well. This adds a connection to the "bad guy" that reminds us that no one is COMPLETELY bad. Then there is the almost obsession that Lauren has for the case that not only threatens to destroy her but also change the way she looks at the world and those in it.
Then there is Dominic. What a fascinating creature he turns out to be! Trapped between two worlds, fighting again his nature and wanting to do something to right what he see as the wrongs in his life. When Lauren and Dominic come together there is something between them that cannot be denied, and it give us some of the best dialogue of the book.
I've now read three books by O'Brien but BITTEN is by far my favorite. It not only showcases his literary skills but leaves the reader wanting more. What else could an avid reader ask for?”
“I found myself waking up at 3am this morning to finish this book. I am not a huge fan of this genre. I usually read books on witches and vampires but I have read one of Dan O'Brien's other books so decided I had to read Bitten. I, personally, like the main character Lauren and I really really hated the villain in this book. Dan has a whole new and different take on werewolves which I found very interesting and believable. If you like being scared read Bitten. At the end Dan hinted at a sequel and I cannot wait to read about Lauren's next adventure.”
Madeline Leftwich sat at the train station every day at exactly thirteen minutes past midnight. The faded brown bench on which she sat did not often have consistent occupants as transients and hobos were sparse this far north.
But there she sat, hands crossed over her lap. The floral pattern of the thick skirt she wore was handmade, buckles and clasps galore adorned the uneven cut and fold of the garment. Her face possessed an absent quality, not that characteristics were missing, but instead a vacancy of spirit. That bench meant a great deal to her. This was the very place that childhood was left behind.
It had been exactly thirty-nine years since her mother had placed her on that very bench, brushed back her hair, and told her everything was going to be alright. She had said she would be right back. A promise to a child is a sacred thing. Even as an adult, Madeline could not tear herself away from the compulsion to come wait for her mother every day at that exact moment she had left her. The whistle blew each night as the passenger train rolled into town.
Cold air rained down upon the open station. Often, there would be sheets of ice that would expel from the track, lining the waiting area just beside the tracks on the concrete platform. Attendants had grown accustomed to her presence. Some even offered her coffee in the wee hours of the morning when they had no other friend. This night, however, she was quite alone.
Heavy bleating of the distant train horn filled the night, filtering through a cloudy fog. The susceptible and otherwise occupied Ms. Leftwich was not yet privy to the gossip of the town. Murder, a topic of great concern no matter the venue, would be especially virulent in such a small community. Distance revealed a dark object hurdling through the night, steam and precipitation sluicing from the hot steel that cascaded across the hours of darkness.
The station was empty. A half-lit banister showed the narrow, icy path that crawled back out to the blacktop just outside the front of the station. She watched the train collide with the open air of the darkness, the squeal of the tight brakes announcing its arrival with startling clarity. Heavy doors opened; artificial light spilled from the side of the train.
Madeline watched the open door––waiting. Seconds passed into minutes, yet there was no sound external to the cold nature of Minnesota. Winter had a feeling, a symphony all its own. Groaning trees fought against the arctic grip of snow and ice. Lakes moving in the distance, far beneath the heavy weight of the ice that had taken residence upon them, filled the night.
Someone stepped out. Her coat was wrapped tightly around her lithe frame, her sandy blonde hair tucked beneath a brown wool cap. The scarf around her neck was braided and frayed; as if it were sewn by someone she knew well, not the simple manufacture of mass production. Brown eyes watched the empty train station with great interest and a precision that marked her immediately as more than a mere observer.
A bulge at her side revealed a weapon. The simple black bag that was slung over the shoulder of the long brown trench coat made her appear to be a woman on the run, or perhaps one who simply liked to travel light.
Seeing the frail figure of Madeline, this sole occupant of the midnight train station, she made her way toward the sitting woman. Her voice was sweet, her tone full of purpose. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this Locke? Locke, Minnesota?”
Ms. Leftwich watched the woman with wide eyes, pooling with tears. She was severely confused. Was this her mother? Had this been the person she had waited so long to see? She hesitated. This woman was younger, younger than she was. Was this possible: a mother who was younger than you?
“Mother?” queried Madeline Leftwich, her voice rising shrilly.
Madeline did not stand, but instead shuffled her purse at her waist. “Are you my mother? You left me here a long time ago. Said you would be back, said you would be back soon.”
Staring into the vacant eyes of Madeline Leftwich, it took the woman a moment of complete incomprehensibility to see that there was not much left. Where there might have once been potential for a woman were the remnants of some sad description of what could laughingly be called life.
“No. I am very sorry. I’m not…”
Madeline stood now, her features scrunching in anger. “Why would you lie to me? Why would you leave me here? Why?”
“Ma’am, my name is Lauren. Lauren Westlake. And I am neither your mother nor a trained therapist. Can you tell me if this is Locke?”
Madeline interrupted, her face flush. Her words were filled with venomous rage. “Don’t pretend I’m a child. I know where I am. I know who I am. Just because you are my mother, doesn’t mean you can leave me behind.”
Lauren Westlake looked at the woman in a mixture of shock and horror. She resisted the urge to physically restrain the woman, concerned about the reaction she might have. “What is your name?”
Madeline’s face was the very picture of surprise.
“You don’t remember your daughter’s name?”
Lauren was uncertain how much further this charade should be carried, whether or not disengaging from the woman would be simpler. Looking at the woman carefully, she noticed that her clothing was handmade. The name Madeline was sewn into the breast of her outmost jacket. Stifling an irritated sigh, she continued. “Madeline. Your name is Madeline.”
And then as quickly as the madness had come, it dissipated. “Why are you talking to me?”
“Excuse me. I…”
Madeline looked at Lauren strangely and stood, gathering her belongings. She moved past Lauren and out into the night as if the interaction did not even happen. Lauren watched her go, scrutinizing the entire exchange in her own mind. Shaking her head, she adjusted the bag at her back and moved forward past the dock of the train station and into the cold area just above it.
Ms. Leftwich was nowhere to be seen.
As far as Lauren was concerned, that was for the best.
The night was cold. A heavy veil of fog seemed to grow like a behemoth. She looked down the lane and saw only two endless views of darkness. The blacktop was crystalline, frozen precipitation having created a surreal sheet that seemed as if it would be better suited for ice skating than vehicular travel.
“Not exactly a warm welcome,” she muttered, drawing the top of her coat closer to her face. There were muffled sounds in the distance, voices that were muted; sounds that could originate from only one kind of establishment: a bar. Lowering her head and pulling the strap of her bag tight, she soldiered on.
Madeline had made a mistake that night that would cost her life. Each night that she sat alone at that train station she would wait for the sun to rise and then scamper home, ashamed. This night, however, her emotions had gotten the better of her. And it was in these woods that she would now find herself in the presence of a particular creature of the night, one that would come to haunt and terrorize the inhabitants of the small town of Locke.
The moon overhead stung the fog, driving the ethereal wisps from its view. Wide and threatening, it looked peaceful when viewed in the company of others, in the arms of a lover perhaps. To Madeline Leftwich, a woman lost in her own mind, it was a portent of doom.
Thick branches grew over the sorry excuse for a path that she walked each day. By daylight the intricacies could be gleaned, but at night it was a haunted maze littered with obstructions and potential trip falls.
Her shoes were a dark fabric. Not the kind of material used when hiking through the woods at breakneck speeds, though that is what Madeline would need that night. When she paused at the center of the trail to make sure she wasn’t being followed, the dead silence of the night became a far more frightening sound.
“Who is there,” she half-whispered, her voice cracking.
A branch snapped, frost claiming yet another soldier.
Another sound echoed in the night; this time much heavier, like weight lingering as a fledging branch gasped for its last breath before being trampled. She pulled her bag close to her chest, her face twisting in fear. Her eyes were wide as she searched the night frantically. “There is nothing there,” she whispered, tearing her eyes from the tree line.
Continuing forward, her steps were quicker, more deliberate. The woods around her thinned the faster she walked, white-speckled pines giving way to broken branches along a road of depreciating value. The trail widened in places, enough that little pockets of dirt and soil were pushed up from use.
As if something were urging her forward, she began to run slightly, her breath expelled in heavy puffs of condensed air. She wheezed then, a panicked, hiccupping sound that erupted deep from within her chest.
And that was when she heard the first growl. There was something wrong with it. It sounded like an animal, the guttural low pitches. However, there was something human to it, a strange gargling sound.
Her feet were not as sure beneath her as she thought. The tips of the fabric shoes dug into the hard soil, making her wince in pain. Biting her lip hard, she forged forward, stumbling into an open area of the trail.
Trees crowded the edges of her vision and the clearing. The trail continued on the way she had been trampling and then split into two smaller trails yet. The fog hung ahead of her, pulling away as if it were an entity all its own.
Silence permeated the area.
And then the growl came again. It sounded hungry, desperate, the pinnacle of auditory fear. “Who is there? What? Why are you hiding?” she whimpered. “Please. Please.”
It seemed to come from all around her, enveloping the cold night air. The fog stirred; deep in its belly a shadow formed. Tall and hunched, it was a mass of darkness shaped like a man. Heavy in the shoulders, spines seemed to rise unevenly from the arms and body. The head was lowered and the knees bowed as if it were ready to pounce.
Yet it did not. It stood, chest heaving, safely veiled by the fog bank. Hands that seemed to melt into long thin claws were obscured by the swirling mass of miasma ebbing and flowing within.
She was speechless.
Her mouth opened: no words.
Her mind raced. Panicked thoughts flooded her mind, erasing judgment and reason. Muscles constrained and joints locked, she watched helplessly. It took a single step forward, the heave of its heavy chest frightening.
Madeline Leftwich was not a god-fearing woman. In point of fact, until that moment she had not given much thought about death. Never had she thought about whether she wished to stay in this world: alive, mortal. Now, when confronted with something drawn from nightmares, her pulse raced and she realized, with a desperate certainty, that she did indeed wish to live.
The rain trickled then, a fat droplet striking her across her hair. Her feet hit the ground hard, her pulse racing as she abandoned her bag. Churning, her feet dug into the hard winter earth. Her breath sputtered in front of her in rapid fits of exploding clouds. She whimpered as she ran, tears running down her face as trees slapped her hard across her cold, sensitive features; some left bruises, others broke skin.
The forest was now alive with sound.
Creatures hooted and hollered in the night.
They knew something was happening.
She could hear herself breathing.
She would not last much longer.
Her foot caught something lodged deep into the frozen ground. The world spun in circles as her back collided with the unforgiving earth. The groan that escaped her lips was foreign.
Frightened and defeated, she kept very still. Where she had landed proved defensible, high brush bristling with heavy branches and evergreen leaves that hid her partly from view.
The forest beat a heavy drum.
Footfalls of animals loose in the night filled the air. There was one set of footsteps that rung above the others: something primal, something large. She covered her mouth with her hand. Pressing tightly, she watched as a shadow crept across her vision.
She peered out the side of the brush.
It stood like a man.
Up close the fur was matted, uneven, missing in some places. The legs were muscular and covered in fabrics that seemed to sluice fluid. Hemorrhaging from the torso, it moved with a predator’s grace.
Its face was covered in shadow.
Madeline felt a scream rise from deep in her chest and she pressed her hand harder against her mouth. Closing her eyes, tears streamed from them. Her chest heaved, but she tried not to move, locking her body into a paralysis.
She could not tear her eyes away from it.
Turning, the face was still well hidden.
Long slender fingers, like dull blades, bounced against the creature’s legs. The clothing was torn and dirty. A smell emanated from it that could only be described as nausea in the depths of a septic tank. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air, a hood pressing against its mangled hair.
Her breath caught in her throat.
The slow turn of the creature and the bend of its legs as it lowered closer to the ground was more than Madeline could take. And before she could even remove her hand from her mouth to scream, it was upon her.
Learn more about Dan O'Brien by visiting his Amazon author Page.