I really hoped that this release from Deadite Press would be good. Punk/skinhead subculture and werewolves are both right up my street, so I was pleased to discover that David Agranoff has written an appropriate homage to both. With characters worth rooting for and plenty of gore, this is as much a coming of age tale as it is a ghastly slab of Nazi horror.
A chilling prologue introduces Klaus Schroeder, SS gruppenfuhrer at Auschwitz. He’s as cold, efficient and dangerously hateful as you would expect, and whilst on the trail of escaped prisoners, he discovers an ancient cult who use the hide of an Egyptian wolf-god to achieve lycanthropy.
We are then transported to Chicago, 1989, to meet Paul: a young mixed-race skinhead new to town. He’s quite a likeable lad, and we’re along for the ride as he settles into his new life, sees his first street fight, and finds both love and brotherhood with the local scene of punks and skins.
Similarly we meet tough guy Sonny, who used to be one of this crowd but has since fallen in with neo-Nazis. He now works at an auto store run by an ex-KKK wizard and although more intelligent than the other thugs in the gang, he finds asserting himself more difficult in such an ultra-aggressive environment. Not to mention them getting a beating, twice, at the hands of new kid Paul and his anti-racist crew.
But our old friend Klaus is also new to the area, fresh from evading Mossad overseas. He’s looking to resurrect Hitler’s Reich by starting an Aryan werewolf army, tuned for hunting and unstoppable savagery. What better place to start recruiting than a store full of white power boot boys out for revenge?
I enjoyed this book. The first half has plenty of street menace, with one tense scene using a dead-end alleyway to good effect. I suspect that some of this is semi-autobiographical, which lends credibility to the action. And once the lycanthropy has kicked off, there are scenes of stalking and violence that get the pulse racing. Some of these characters are dangerous enough as people, but as werewolves?
Regarding the protagonists, Paul’s coming-of-age rings true and Sonny brings ambivalence. Despite him being on the wrong side, he has potential, and toys with our loyalties. It also leaves us guessing as to whether the bestial nature of the wolf will be his redemption or downfall.
While the racist slurs used in dialogue are startling, they stamp a chilling authenticity on the neo-Nazis. Overall, the politics and the whys-and-wherefores are tackled intelligently without eroding any of the fun of the story. It is also through this that comes some of the more uplifting moments. When Paul is locked up in a cell with a rival gang member, there’s an American History X type moment of camaraderie that brings hope.
There are plenty of nasty moments, but this is tempered by humour in the comradeship, and also through the narration. For example, the neat throwaway line “They had to eat the Hammer Skins because they wouldn’t calm down” made me laugh out loud.
As I was hoping, “Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich” is rounded off by a showdown of violence and gore. As the first half lets us get to know the crew, this is monstrous carnage we can invest in, and certainly makes the most of the concept with some well-written cinematic flourishes.
A nice touch for the music fans, as well as the in-story references, is that each chapter starts with an appropriate lyric. Some of these are from my favourite Oi! bands, such as The Business and Cock Sparrer, and its great to see a nod to these often-unsung heroes of punk. And it’s also pleasing that there’s a firm differentiation between traditional skinheads and the sieg-heiling supremacists.
David Agranoff is a succinct storyteller. He paints a clear picture, whether in a concentration camp, ska gig or back street, and transports us there through the characterisation and drama. And if you’re not familiar with – or dislike – the music, then don’t worry. The subcultural garnish brings only colour and life, and you’ve still got a well-paced story and homicidal Nazi werewolves bent on world domination to entertain you.