The Beast of Barcroft
“. . . guarantees the reader will believe there are truly things that go bump in the night . . . ”
In the little hamlet of Barcroft near Washington, DC, Ben McKelvie is having a bad year. His father died, his fiancée left him, and there’s a plague of rats coming from the house of a deceased neighbor notorious for sheltering strays. Then something kills his dog.
Not someone . . . some thing . . . Ben saw it, chased it, and it confronted him.
“. . . it was the same tawny color as his dog but with a round head and a low, broad muzzle . . . Feline. . .”
Ben calls the local police but the answering officer is anything but sympathetic.
“‘On a scale of one to ten, how important do you think this call is to the Arlington County Police Department, sir?’
‘Two. It’s a two, sir . . . ’
In the meantime, Lindsey Clark is called in by the Barcroft Community Board to help with the rat problem.
“‘ . . . I’m the assistant curator of great cats at the Smithsonian Museum’s National Zoo.’
‘Then a couple of rats should be no problem for someone as bright as you.’”
Lindsey meets Ben who immediately insists the cougar he saw is more important than the rats.
“‘ . . . if there’s a cougar in Arlington—’
‘Not if. There is a cougar in Arlington.’
‘I was just going to say it’s an anomaly.’
‘Fine. An anomaly ate my dog. But it looked an awful lot like a cougar.”
Abandoning the rat problem, Lindsey agrees to let Ben show her the scene of the “crime.” Finding a print, she realizes there is a cougar loose in Arlington but wants to study rather than kill it.
Doing a little investigating of his own, Ben goes to Madeleine Roux’s home, discovering his former neighbor’s mother had taken up residence. Some kind of nature worshipper, she blames the other inhabitants of Barcroft for Madeleine’s death. She chases Ben from the house with an obscure but deadly warning.
“‘. . . You think it’ll show you any mercy . . . You think it’ll make a difference?’”
Shortly afterward, Ben’s other neighbor dies, her body covered in rat bites. The verdict is a heart attack with the bites coming afterward. Ben isn’t so certain. His best friend Jim urges him to tell the police about Madeleine’s mother.
“‘You want I should call about some crazy witch-looking woman on the same day rats chew my neighbor to pieces? I’m starting to sound like the boy who cried wolf.’
‘You are the wolf . . . ’ Jim pointed to Ben. ‘So get mad. Huff and puff, man.’”
Lindsey Clark is still trying to find the animal but it isn’t conforming to the things she knows about cougars. What she discovers in a drain near Four Mile Run definitely goes against anything she knows about big cats…the body of a missing Animal Control agent.
Another community meeting is called. In a few minutes, everyone is an eyewitness to the danger as Jim is killed in front of them.
“. . . Jim never saw it coming. The blur spun him 360 and when he turned back around his torso was ripped open and blood was coursing down the front of his dress shirt.
It dropped Jim and spun around. Its back arched and hackles raised . . . it was not a mountain lion but a massive wolf.”
Ben is vindicated, at the price of his friend’s life.
“‘First a mountain lion attacks, then a wolf. In Arlington?’
“Not in Arlington. In Barcroft . . . The killings . . . they’re all the same. By the same hand. Or paw or whatever.’”
When his dead friend appears in his yard a short time later, Ben forms his own opinion of what the creature really is.
“ . . . it’s a werewolf.”
Lindsey turns to Richard Severance, a cryptozoologist, who studies legendary animals trying to determine the reality behind them.
With Richard and his Native American associate, the four will discover something more deadly than a shapeshifter, a creature known for centuries but relegated to the status of myth. The Beast of Barcroft has been summoned to destroy Madeleine Roux’s enemies but has now shaken off the hold upon it and is free to kill as it wishes . . .
This is a fast-moving story whose action starts with the first paragraph and doesn’t slow until the last period on the last page. The interaction between the characters, beginning with condescending skepticism and changing rapidly to horrified acceptance is well written and believable. The Beast of Barcroft is a page-turner, seizing the reader and demanding he keep his nose buried in the book until that last page is reached.
It guarantees the reader will believe there are truly things that go bump in the night.