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I read the book in 1987 or 1988 (having borrowed it from a friend in a middle-school science class), and I'm pretty sure it was not written much before then (and definitely not later). The plot elements I recall:

  • An anthropologist(?) took part in a tribal ritual in South America involving an herbal drink that was linked to turning you into a werewolf.
  • On returning to the States, the anthropologist (unknowingly?) started attacking people, creating new werewolves.
  • Somehow, a police investigation figured out who all the victims were, so the main plot was trying to capture them all in order to contain the spread of the contagion, rather than trying to figure out what was going on.
  • The cause of lycanthropy turned out to be some sort of bacteria with a predictable aversion to silver. (I don't recall how the bacteria and the herbal drink fit together.)
  • At the end of the novel, the last known victim had been captured and was being studied to figure out a cure.

Not Relic, which was published too late, despite the similarities.

It might have taken place in Chicago? (But that could be my Dresden Files memories intruding.)


If it helps, I would have guessed John Saul was the author, as I remember borrowing another book from the same friend around the same time. Looking at his list of books, though, I see the other book was Hellfire, but none of the other books there (including those written after 1988) are a match.

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  • I was going to say partial match to King's Cycle of the Werewolf, but having read a full text at Archive.org I don't think so any more. Other than it being a werewolf story in the 80's it doesn't match much.
    – bob1
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 2:01
  • Definitely not King, as the only thing I've ever read of his was the first 100 pages or so of The Stand. I can never really seem to get into his stuff. (No judgement on King as a writer; I'm just not into horror in general.)
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 19:11

2 Answers 2

5
+100

The Hyde Effect, by Steve Vance. First published in 1986, which fits neatly with your idea that it had been released not long before you happened to read a copy.

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Here are some plot points I remember. Some of them strongly resemble your summary-from-memory, although there are some discrepancies. (Not surprising if it's been about 35 years since you read it.)

Plot Points

  1. The book begins much as you described. An anthropologist is listening to members of a primitive tribe talk about how a werewolf had been killing people, twelve years ago, in sprees which always occurred during a full moon, until the tribal shaman was able to come up with a way to kill the monster. The scholar is interested in letting them talk, but personally suspects the "werewolf" was something like a victim of rabies who foamed at the mouth and seemed inhumanly strong as he went on a rampage -- although it is odd that he would survive long enough to launch three killing sprees at monthly intervals. The scholar silently speculates that perhaps there were multiple rabid attackers, in a monthly cycle -- each new one having been infected by the previous before he died of his disease, and only the last of them was somehow trapped and killed by the men of the tribe, who then blamed this "monster" for all of the previous killings.

  2. The scholar is trying to be polite, but evidently his skepticism shows through. The shaman is offended at being patronized by a white man who thinks he already knows all the answers. The shaman had kept a souvenir of the werewolf, dried out and in powdered form, believing it still contained the power to create another werewolf if need be. The shaman (called "Ugalde") puts that special powder into a bottle of whiskey and then . . .

With the swiftness of a man half his age, the Indian leaped from a sitting position onto the other's chest, as if he were pinning him in some friendly athletic contest. But the crazed expression covering his face and the keenness of the knife blade removed any trace of ordinary competition from the action. Ugalde sat the bottle viciously on the ground next to the visitor's face and tipped the neck of it toward his mouth. "Drink," he ordered.

"Ugalde!" the man cried frantically. Visions of wriggling microbes being revitalized by the liquor flooded his mind. Could any life survive for a dozen years in such a dehydrated state? Yes, yes, viruses could live for centuries! "What in the name of God are you doing?"

A sneer replaced the sullen look the older man had worn. "Your god! You believe your eye, white man, and only that, so drink and see what the devils you don't know can cause a living spirit to become! Drink, or I will cut your throat!"

  1. Then a good chunk of the book deals with brutal murders taking place, always on the night of a full moon, and various characters getting interested in the investigation, for various reasons. At first, there's a serious lack of surviving eyewitnesses to describe the mysterious attacker to the cops, but gradually the evidence accumulates that something strongly resembling a Hollywood-style werewolf is involved in these homicides. We readers, of course, have a very good idea of how that happened.

  2. Then another large chunk of the book deals with what happens in one horrible night after the anthropologist has been taken into custody. (I think he finally surrendered himself to the police, voluntarily, and described everything he could remember about the incident with the shaman, and what's happened since then on the nights with full moons in the sky.) You are correct that becoming a werewolf appeared to be a type of communicable disease, although I can't recall if it was specifically established, during the novel, to be a "germ" or "virus" or what. You are also correct that silver was particularly effective against a werewolf. Other weapons could pierce its flesh, but it appeared to recover very rapidly from such wounds. (Sort of like Wolverine's mutant "healing factor" in the X-Men comics and movies.)

  3. Much of this later portion of the book, however, takes place during one terrible night. Someone takes the anthropogist's confession seriously enough that he arranges for the next anticipated transformation (on the night of the next full moon) to take place under carefully controlled conditions inside some sort of large scientific research center with lots of armored doors. Video cameras will be rolling. The man will be strapped onto a stretcher, and I believe will be isolated in a room with something resembling steel bars or bulletproof glass or some other way to "keep him locked up," while scientists and journalists in the next room are watching intently to see just what happens. The anthropologist expresses some doubts about whether the leather straps, a couple of inches thick, will be strong enough to keep him helpless on the stretcher after he turns into a werewolf, but of course the chief scientist on this project pooh-poohs the idea that there could be any problems in that area. (You see what's coming, of course.)

  4. Yes, the test subject breaks loose, now transformed into a bipedal werewolf with vastly superhuman strength and stamina, but nothing resembling "moral restraint" or "conversational skills," and goes on a berserk rampage throughout the facility. Various characters try various ways to hide from it, injure it with silver, or otherwise hold it off, and in the end someone manages to kill the monster.

  5. I don't think your memory is accurate about the "sole remaining victim," however. Although it is true that just one of the major characters of the book becomes an infected victim after that night of terror -- but so do many other people whom we readers never really got to know. In the last pages of the book, it is made clear that someone important within the federal government of the USA has finally started taking this situation Very Seriously -- the high death toll and the video evidence of a terrifying transformation probably helped with that -- and so Uncle Sam is now willing to spend huge amounts of money to keep the werewolf virus (or whatever it is) from spreading. After the anthropologist/werewolf was killed, every survivor of that terrible night at the research facility was taken into federal custody, to be detained until the next night of a full moon. Some survivors had been severely wounded; some had scratches and bruises and so forth; some appeared to be unharmed. But no one knew how to do a blood test (or any other lab test of body fluids, tissue samples, etc.) that would absolutely guarantee that a person had not been infected by a drop of saliva or some other fleeting contact with the werewolf, so the only safe thing to do was to make sure that each possible candidate for infection was very securely strapped down, inside rooms which were guaranteed to withstand three times the amount of physical strength that the first werewolf had demonstrated, by the next time the sun set on the night of a full moon.

  6. I forget the exact numbers, but I think over a hundred survivors were being tested this way in a maximum-security facility, and I think around thirty of them did, in fact, transform into raving monsters when the time came. But proper care had been taken so that none of them broke out. The next morning, everyone who had transformed during the night went right back to normal -- for another month. All the other detainees, now confirmed to be uninfected, were quickly turned loose since they were not huge threats to national security. What, exactly, would happen to the "new generation" of werewolves who remained in federal custody? That was left up in the air!

Note: a little research tells me that a Kindle edition of the book is available through Amazon for $3.99 (USD), and also that Vance later wrote a sequel novel -- Shapes -- which I haven't read.

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  • 1
    This seems very likely. I'll read a bit more tonight just to confirm before accepting.
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 23:48
  • Hm, having finished it, I don't think this is the book. The ending I remember only involved one additional werewolf, and its transformation was described from the point of view of the observers, not the victim itself. (The prologue seemed very familiar, but nothing else in the book ever sounded familiar.)
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 18:06
2

Could this be Relic, a 1995 novel by American authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child?

The monster is a human/reptile hybrid created by ingesting a plant harboring a bacteria with DNA-mutating abilities. Instead of a traditional werewolf you get a Mbwun. (Side note: If the scary tribal dude deep in the south American jungle offers you tea, maybe don't drink the tea). In the book, a dumb-ass anthropologist guy called Whittlesey drinks the tea, becomes a Mbwun, and starts killing people in and around the American Museum of Natural History in New York. FBI guys get involved, corpses and shell casings pile up, and there's a fancy dress party (New York really does have everything).

In the end:

In his lab, Kawakita has realized a horrific truth; the creature didn't kill Whittlesey and take his pendant as a trophy, it actually WAS Whittlesey. He speculates that the Kothoga, having failed with Mbwun using their own people, had decided to feed the plant to a white man instead, hoping the resulting creature would be easier to control. The gamble failed, and Whittlesey was able to survive on the plants for years before their destruction, and he followed his own samples back home to the museum. Thanks to the samples that survived and were analyzed, Kawakita manages to develop a drug that would turn the users into addicts first, then into Mbwun. He begins selling it on the street, reflecting that the Kothoga's problem had been that Mbwun was able to feed on the plants himself whenever he wanted, and so they had no hold over it. Now, as the only person alive capable of making the drug, the creatures would never turn on him; he would have total control over the creatures and succeed where the Kothoga failed.


The 1997 film version starred Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore.

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  • 1
    Can you explain why you think this one matches? It's been a while since I read Relic, but that's not ringing the bells for me.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 2:19
  • I'm not moving too quick tonight, fuzzman. I'll throw in some details as I remember them. Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 2:33
  • 1
    I do acknowledge the similarities, but Relic is not the book I am thinking of. The only confusion over 1987 or 1988 is whether I borrowed it from a friend in 7th or 8th grade science class. (Both classes were in the same classroom, which is why I'm not certain which of the two years it was, though I'm more confident that it was 1988 than 1987.)
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 15:42
  • 1
    (I do worry, though, that I may be mentally combining scenes from the movie adaptation with the book I'm looking for.)
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 15:47

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