Review: “Shapeshifter,” J.F. Gonzalez

Rating: 2 out of 5

J.F. Gonzalez’s Shapeshifter was a mixed bag for me. Mark Wiseman is a werewolf. One day in his teens he was being beaten by a bully and he just snapped. Since then, he has to let the beast out at every full moon or he starts to lose control. One night when he’s working his job, the CEO of his company, Bernard Roberts, happens to glimpse the security monitor right when he very nearly changes into a werewolf. He gets control of himself, but the damage is done: Bernard knows what he is. Bernard digs up information on Mark that seems to tie him in to several murders, including that of his parents, and blackmails Mark. The company board wants to merge with another company, which means Bernard would be out of a job (and certain indiscretions might be uncovered). Bernard blackmails Mark into killing several of the pro-merger board members.

There are some logical inconsistencies in here. Once you’ve killed three people who are all on the board of the same company, the authorities should notice the pattern, even if it looks like the men were savaged by wild animals. Instead, only one person notices and hires a private detective, Allen Frey, to look into it. Allen finds two young people who happened to see Mark kill one of the targets and turn back into a human. They’re specifically stated to be 100 yards away from what happens, and yet they saw so clearly that they can describe Mark to a sketch artist such that he’s immediately recognizable, and they even guessed his height down to the inch. I honestly was surprised they didn’t give his eye color.

I felt like I never really got a handle on Mark’s personality. There’s his past of being bullied and being abused by his alcoholic parents, but his present-day personality is very bland. There’s certainly no evidence that being a werewolf in any way impacts his temperament.

There’s really only one female character, Carol Emrich, who is Bernard’s secretary and lover. She has an undeserved reputation for sleeping her way up the company ladder, but she did sleep with Bernard and she does acknowledge her looks helped her get jobs. It should be noted that the male characters in this book tend toward explicit misogyny, and when there are multiple characters like that and not a lot of pushback, it tends to come across as the story itself being a bit misogynistic, particularly when there are so few women in it.

At one point two characters are fleeing across the country, and it’s way too easy for them. I mean okay, I think this was published in the year 2000, so it’s reasonable that it isn’t yet easy to track people electronically, and security on plane flights wasn’t yet as tight as it is now since it’s pre-9/11. However, they easily steal cars, buy stolen cars, contemplate getting whole new identities, and set up in a small, rural town where they immediately land jobs and are practically seen as locals within the month. (I’ve lived in small towns. It doesn’t work that way.) I mean, they do say they shouldn’t use credit cards or they’ll be tracked, but they are specified to get “paychecks,” which… wouldn’t using a bank account pose the same problem as a credit card?

The basics of the story are decent. I like the concept of blackmailing a werewolf into doing your dirty-work, and there are some decent bloody horror scenes. But the rest did not hold up under scrutiny.

Content note for misogyny, prison rape and torture, racial slurs.

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