Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Once upon a time in a house deep in the woods of Northern BC, a strong, thoughtful woman invited all her family and friends to Thanksgiving dinner—her parents and in-laws, convict brother-in-law, divorcing neighbours, and her two children: ten-year-old Tommy and his teenage sister, Charlotte. There were twelve in all, as one couple didn’t appear; at least, not in their human forms. It wasn’t quite “The Last Supper” but close.
Wolf at the Door is a kick-ass tour de force, a brilliantly plotted and masterfully written debut novella that will keep you sitting up in bed with your eyes and ears wide open long after it's done. You may never venture out in the dark again.
This enchanting 125-page-story is told in six parts: Before Dinner, Cocktails, The Dinner, Dessert, Second Helpings, and A Late Night Snack. McKay treads the fantasy/horror trail, but his psychological deep dive into the characters of these people next door is what impresses most. When I taught English, we often gave out an assignment: create a dinner party with several characters. Explain who and why and what transpires during the dinner. In a shorter story, an author must be concise and discriminatory with psychological details, and as I read the carefully selected backstories, personalities, and foibles of Char’s dinner guests, this came to mind.
How will Char and her husband Doug save their family and friends from being the main course for a couple of vicious werewolves equipped with mythic speed, superstrength, razor teeth and claws, and a hinged jaw that opens wide enough to take in Grandma’s whole head? Even the quintessential minivan can’t stand up to this brutality. “The monster’s arms broke through the window next to Owen like a knife through an eggshell. The glass shattered inward, scattering across the seats and floor in tiny square little chunks. Char tried to reach for Owen, but the seat belt locked and held her back” (104). I’ll stop there in case werewolf horror isn’t to your taste.
Joel McKay is a superhero in a suit. Trained as a journalist, McKay made Prince George his home a decade ago when he joined the Northern Development Initiative Trust. He’s now CEO. The Trust works with First Nations, local governments, and businesses to invest in Northern economic development. By day, McKay distributes millions of dollars in grants to create a stronger BC but by night he turns his literary skills to the realm of Sci-Fi, fantasy, and horror. His short story, “Number Hunnerd” was recently published in Tyche Books’ anthology, Water: Selkies, Sirens and Sea Monsters. I honestly cannot wait to read his first novel.
Wolf at the Door is a TV show waiting to happen. McKay’s sensory writing, keen dialogue, relatable characters, and perfect plotting creates a screenwriter’s dream. But don’t wait for that. Read it today, preferably in the daylight hours.
PS. The cover is perfect.
Wolf at the Door is published by Birchwood Press.
W. L. Hawkin is a genre-blender who writes the kind of books she loves to read—mystery/thriller/fantasy/romance. She publishes with Blue Haven Press.