The Damned by Tarn Richardson

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The Damned by Tarn Richardson is a moody, atmospheric horror novel that starts off very strong and for me, simply falls flat. The premise is one I have read in several different variations but still its been done and by others, far better.

It is the early 1900s and war is breaking out. It will be the first world war that pits nations against nations. In the French city of Arras, a priest is horribly killed. Torn to threads. The Church sends one of its most seasoned Inquisitors to investigate. Poldek Tacit, his mandate, to protect the Church and battle its enemies by whatever means are necessary. But Tacit has seen evil in his lifetime. Found by the Church as a child, clutching the raped and murdered corpse of his own mother. Her killers, dead around her, only the child Tacit left alive. Trained in the art of the Inquisitor, Tacit learns to visit onto those who would do evil the same brutality they would visit on the innocent. But as experience and time has taught Tacit, there are no innocents.

As Tacit arrives in Arras, British and German forces confront one another across a field of trenches. As the night falls and the full moon rises, the British can hear the screaming and fighting across the field in the German trenches. Even more, they can hear the howls in the night. As they go forward to investigate, they find the German trenches littered with corpses. Torn and shredded. Only a few survive and those few only say, “Wolf.”

A beautiful and local woman named Sandrine, warns the British soldier Henry Frost that they must leave the area and take shelter indoors during the night. That there is something more terrible than the advancing German army.

Tacit begins to realize that the evil in Arras is more than the work of men. He knows the creature that lives in the tunnels, faced with his own demons and his wavering trust in the Church, Tacit must find the creature and solve the murders of the Priest. But he finds that the Church itself stands in the way of him doing his duty. Theirs spies watch him and question his methods and there are those whose own duplicity may be at the heart of the murder.

Then there is another murder and worse, another moon on the horizon.

The Damned started off with a bang and then as the story unfolded slowed down to a monotone pace of storytelling. The Werewolves here are actually cursed members of the early Catholic Church who were converted into the creatures as punishment for their lack of faith. Now, realizing that they may have done wrong, the Church wants these creatures killed so that no one will know of what they have done. That is central to this story, the political wranglings of the Church and the brutal methods behind them. I have to wonder if Richardson had simply stuck to the premise of a horror story and not tried to develop the backstory of the immorality of the Church, if the novel would have been better? I believe it certainly would have been faster paced and that at the core of my review is the issue.

The pace. It starts off strong and then slows down and then slows down and somewhere in the middle of this tale you realize that this book is not really telling its own story, but it is setting up the foundation of the next book. That is one of the reasons it fails for me.

The Werewolves also fall flat. A litter of scared and bitter people who hide in the tunnels and feed off of the scraps their keeper brings them. Only when the moon rises and they go out do they become the true creatures they are. But when that happens, the reader hears of it from a distance and it is not first hand narration.

The rest of the characters, minus Tacit, are for the most part secondary. Bit players that have been plugged into the story but have very little true bearing. They are cookie cutter and dull. Tacit himself basically needs to get laid. Morose and brooding. That act, after a time, well it gets pretty boring.

As I mentioned, I have read this premise before. The Last Werewolf, The Wolf’s Hour and though it does not do with Werewolves, The Keep.

This is the first book in series and I may pick up the next book if only to see if it gets better. But not is there is something else to read.

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