Two plagues rage in the countryside. One plague is smallpox, a torturous disease that ravages the body, turning homes into tombs. The other ailment is more mysterious, a scourge of occult origin, a plague that ravages the mind and consumes the soul. Here the deepest horrors are made manifest. Here the dead walk the shadowed wood. Here a spirit and its brood of changelings emerge from the earth to feed. Into this malefic maelstrom enters Dorin Toth, famed occultist and investigator. Accompanied by his faithful greyhound, Vinegar Tom, Toth must find the source of the eldritch epidemic. Will Toth and Tom prevail against the blights that they uncover? Or will the dark storm of ghosts consume them?
Meet Dorin Toth. In 17th century Austria, the famed occultist and investigator wanders the countryside of Austria. A land beset by plague and rot, in the real and metaphysical sense. With his faithful greyhound Vinegar Tom at his side, Toth seems to find the secrets of the supernatural epidemic and the truth behind the ancient spirit Old Raum, whose agents haunt the mortal plane.
From the start, Coy Hall writes with a sense of nostalgia. One could easily mistake “The Promise of Plague Wolves” as the novelization of a Hammer Horror film that never was. Hall seems well aware of the tradition in which he writes, with numerous references both historical and fictional in nature.
The story unfolds like a grim mystery. “Plague Wolves” begins with Dorin Toth already a seasoned investigator, so Hall writes as though this is just another adventure that the reader has been fortunate enough to witness. Though while we do get a sense of Toth’s character, it feels at times like the development for Toth has already happened. Throughout the book, there seems little by way of personal stake for Toth as opposed to simply solving another mystery and fighting the forces of evil.
Nevertheless, there is enough about Toth to remain interesting and dynamic. His love for Vinegar Tom is a constant bright spot through what is a very dark narrative. Hall spares little room for ensuring the villains are suitably monstrous. A grieving occultist has brought down the forces of hell upon the region and Hall delights in portraying the resultant slaughter and monstrosity that ensues, while simultaneously giving Old Raum’s heralds, Grau and Toader, little moments of depth that serve to flesh them out.
But the book can simply not be topped for sheer atmosphere. Horror lurks in the pages like an oppressive mist, and Hall builds his lore from pieces of real occultism and history, while keeping it just fictional enough. It’s an excellent sojourn into darkness with Dorin Toth that’ll leave the reader hungry for another jaunt with him and his faithful Tom.