"'Cause what you don't realise, ya fucken amateur, is there's others like us." - Cutter
A young Mick Taylor escaping a troubled past takes a job as a jackaroo on a remote Western Australian sheep station where a man's past is his own business. Mick has difficulties settling in amongst the rough farmhands and soon makes enemies, with one bloke in particular seemingly watching him with undue interest. Seems Mick has some dark urges, which he can't contain and the body count starts rising, which doesn't go unnoticed. Cutter, who shares some of Mick's passions, finds evidence of a murder that Mick has committed and hides the evidence where Mick is going to be hard pressed to find it, in the den of another psychopath.
With things going wrong at the Station Mick is soon without a job and moves in with Rose, who just might have an answer to what troubles him. However Mick is soon slicing and dicing again, which doesn't escape the notice of other predators. Mick needs to find the evidence Cutter hid, and the only way he is going to be able to do that is by hunting down more seasoned psychopaths and searching their lairs. Adding to Mick's troubles are a couple of local police officers who are investigating recent deaths in the area, and they have Mick firmly in their cross hairs.
Okay annoying autobiographic paragraph, jump to the next one to avoid. When I was a kid, way before the advent of the internet as we now know it, yes kids dinosaurs roamed the earth and there was no Facebook or youtube, I was still a major horror fan. Which was cool except none of my friends shared this aspect of my personality but I did have a couple of cousins who also voyaged in darker waters. Unfortunately their parents moved them stateside and we only got to hang out during Christmas. Through various letters, remember no internet, I got to learned that in the States major horror franchises, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc not only had the movies but also had novels! Yes I was jealous, jealous as hell, especially since they didn't think of bringing any of the books back Downunder. Which brings me to the Wolf Creek novels, finally we have an actual franchise in this part of the world! I'm reviewing Origin today, but I have the next Wolf Creek novel to look at, there's a sequel to the movie schedule for release in February 2014, and if that's not all she wrote we're being promised a further three movies and additional books. The U.S can keep their Jasons and Michaels, we have our own brand of serial killer, Mick Taylor, and the frightening thing is that Mick is an ordinary bloke that could actually be out there. Let's get our Origin on.
The novel is jointly written by Wolf Creek creator Greg McLean and Aaron Sterns, who besides being a writer in his own right does the academic thing. Now the problem with joint writers is sometimes the seams show, as differing writing styles are not necessarily compatible. I noted this to a certain degree in Origin; though to be honest it didn't take me out of the novel. One of our Authors, and I'm picking it's Aaron Sterns, has a tendency to drop into what was called the "new journalist" style in the 1980s at the start of a few of the chapters. It's hard to describe quickly what this style is besides saying it brings immediacy to the prose that puts the reader directly into the narrative. Most readers probably won't pick up on this nuance but just thought I would mention it to be thorough.
McLean and Sterns have written perhaps the best "early years" outing I have ever read. I'm sure, like me, a lot of people catching the Wolf Creek movie would have wondered how Mick came to be a brutal predator, well in between getting a major chill down our spines when Mick let loose that distinctive laugh. Origin seeks to put some meat on the bone, and does so in style. We gradually learn Mick has always had a "dark passenger", to borrow a Dexter term, and the nature versus nurture debate simply has no place in the Wolf Creek universe. Mick was a natural born killer, it just needed something to let loose his inner demons, however his blood lust is also being nurtured almost by the predators around him, to the cost of all involved. So we get some insight into Mick Taylor growing up in a dysfunctional family, sort of a cross between What's Eating Gilbert Grape's Mom and any number of fictional Fathers who are close to being sociopaths themselves, as well as how he was forged as a psychopath.
Now I know a lot of readers are already thinking "Rob Zombie did that with Halloween and destroyed the franchise in inane pseudo bullshit", but I'm here to tell you McLean and Sterns freaking nail it brothers and sisters! As opposed to Zombie our Writers do not destroy the legend of Mick Taylor, they enhance it. Mick comes from a truly redneck family, McLean and Sterns build this aspect of the character's environment with consummate skill, as opposed to Zombie who dropped his rednecks into a middle class environment, then added on the grunge factor. Furthermore Mick has never had a mythical edge to him, once again adding to the chill factor, he is simply an ordinary man with some well developed skills. We learn how he came to have those skills and while we get inside Mick's head we aren't presented with any trite reasons for his murderous hobbies.
I don't want to spend the entire review talking about the character of Mick Taylor, though the novel is told from his viewpoint and the revelations come as he experiences them, McLean and Sterns have also created a number of other memorable characters that will have you devouring this novel like a dingo who has come across an unguarded baby at Uluru, (Ayers Rock for the yanks).
Without giving too much away, Mick isn't the only predator in the empty landscape. McLean and Sterns draw each of the additional killers with broad strokes, giving each individual their own character and motivations. Mick might have a few Roos bouncing around in the top paddock but they pale in comparison to some of the others hunting the outback in Origin. While it might seem slightly trite to have a whole bunch of psychopaths, the feeling is the outback draws them, no one questions their past and there's a whole lot of empty country to dispose bodies in.
A few people are going to ask about the morality of having a book that serves up a serial killer as hero or at least central character, and to be honest Mick Taylor comes off as something less than an anti hero. But you will find yourself hoping Mick gets to the final pages as McLean and Sterns serve up even worse sociopaths than Mick could ever hope to be. I'm not saying Mick Taylor goes all Dexter on us, but there is the feeling that he at least offers some sort of community service, albeit from a purely personal frame of reference. By the end of Origin we are left in no doubt that Mick Taylor isn't going to be finding redemption, but at least the big fella does prove to be an intriguing character with a lot more to him than simply the need to hunt and kill.
I had a real good time with Wolf Creek: Origin, McLean and Sterns managed to fill in a whole lot of background on central character Mick Taylor without destroying any of the gravitas the character had from the original movie. The book is well written, paced to perfection, and is definitely a page turner. We welcome our first ever horror franchise, and wish Greg McLean best luck with it, the first book in the series has definitely started things in the right direction. Full recommendation folks, one of the best serial killer novels out there, McLean and Sterns have written a book that is destined to be considered a classic in future years.
Strangely this is the first Penguin horror novel the site has covered, either Penguin are giving the dark genre a wide berth or we all need to do some remedial research. If after more information then check the official Penguin site. The novel is expected to hit bookstores early January 2014, ensure you get in early as sales will no doubt be brisk.