Over the years, I have read a half dozen Scott Spenser novels and in almost every instance they have proved to be beautifully crafted, thought-provoking and memorable. Why, then, has he suddenly assumed a “pen name” and started dishing out grisly (but hilarious) little pot-boilers about cannibalistic teenagers? You know the answer, of course. Money. Doubtless, Breed will make a lot of money, and will probably become a movie. Now comes a sequel, Brood.
If your curiosity prompts you to explore a world where a herd of flesh-eating teenagers gather each night in New York’s central park (near the Diana Ross Playground) to feast on squirrels, hamsters and an occasional German shepherd, you will have an advantage if you have read the first book. Perhaps a brief summary will suffice. In Breed, Alex and Leslie Twisden, a middle-aged and wealthy but childless couple decide to gamble on enrolling in a fertility clinic in Slobovia operated by a sinister physician who resembles Marty Feldman in “Young Frankenstein.” The “unconventional” treatment produces some startling changes and the couple not only begins to change physically, but they develop a craving for flesh. However, Leslie is pregnant and gives birth to twins. The craving for flesh becomes uncontrollable and eventually, the basement is full of cages for hamsters, squirrels and stray dogs. The twins, Adam and Alice, appear to be “normal” children, but their parents become so bloodthirsty they begin locking their children up at night because they have a growing desire to kill and eat them. In time, it becomes evident that Alex and Leslie are not the only couples in New York that took the Slobovian treatment. The result is a growing colony of wild children that become feral and either escape or are abandoned by their parents. Alex and Leslie come to a tragic end (both suicides) and the Twisden relatives are left to deal with a mansion, an inherited fortune and the two children, Alice and Adam.
When Brood begins, the wild, squirrel-eating teenagers have become organized round a leader named Rodolfo, and a sinister drug-dealing organization is now marketing “Boom” aka “Zoom”... a drug so new “it isn’t even illegal.” Boom is sort of a frightening super version of Viagra. It consists of the blood of a “wild child,” which the drug dealers trap. Not all of the children are good suppliers of the drug and the blood is “unreliable.” Sometimes it turns geriatrics into crazed fornicators, and sometimes it kills them outright. It also makes them addicts who are perfectly willing to risk death by fornication for a few hours of sexual abandon. In conjunction with the trapping of the feral, hairy children, the drug cartel has established a bio-engineering laboratory which is doing “research” into the future of genetics. There are some vague references to a super race and one of the researchers boast that “science has split the atom, now we will split the gene!” So far, all they have is a lot of dead hairy kids that have to be dumped in some isolated spot. Then, the mayor’s son disappears and rumor has it that he has taken up with Rodolfo. He is easy to spot because his hands “glow”... like perhaps he is radioactive!
Ah, but now comes Cynthia, poor Leslie’s well-meaning but unstable sister who announces her intention of repairing the Twisden mansion and creating a home for those two children, Adam and Leslie. And where are they? Well, the have had a hard time of it, but have survived a series of foster homes. They know that their parents were cannibals who had designs on their own offspring and they are beginning to sense yearnings to run on all fours in the dark and howl at the moon, but they are restrained and cautious. As they approach their teens, they struggle against their inherent animal nature. Eventually, they are torn between joining Rodolfo’s wild band and Cynthia’s promise of a “civilized world” and a safe haven against the coming war. (There has been casualties on both sides that have been disguised as drug war victims.)
The house renovations are daunting. Thousands of rats lurk in the basement and can be heard as they travel ceaselessly behind the walls and floors; all of the house’s furnishings have been scarred and shredded ... not by the rats, but by the savage nocturnal matings of the former owners.
Brood has a cast of minor characters who are bizarre and/or revolting. There is Polly, Rodolfo’s companion who struggles against her own body’s efforts to become something alien. Consider Dennis Keswick, the embittered, wannabe scientist who drives the ghostly wagon that “harvests” the wild kids from the Park. Dennis has perfected the art of drugging his victims with a slap on the back (a tiny needle strapped to his hand) and handcuffing them in cells where they wait the science lab. Dennis is an addict himself and although he is well paid for his services, he spends his earnings on Boom orgies that sometimes last days and usually end with Dennis and a dead prostitute.
Eventually, Aunt Cynthia has second thoughts. Why not sell the mansion and move the twins to some bucolic setting where they can be their “natural selves?” Perhaps some isolated or remote environment which does not have the constant danger of city life? Sounds like yet another sequel in the works.
Quite frankly, I enjoy this kind of over-the-top horror. It may be lacking in literary merit, but I found it totally engaging, much in the vein of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Brood is well-written and the author’s penchant for dark humor is delightful.
Brood by Chase Novak. Little, Brown and Company, 2014. 306 pages