A fascinating story, skillfully told, Secret of the Wolf may very well be Susan Krinardís best book to date.
Quentin Forster is a werewolf. The younger brother of Braden, Earl of Greyburn (from Krinardís Touch of the Wolf), he fled England for America to hide a terrifying problem. Now, unable to escape the feeling that he is being watched and followed, he travels alone, never staying long in any one place and drowning his fears in alcoholic binges. While they blunt the pain, these also leave alarming blanks in his memory.
At the end of one of these binges, Johanna Schell finds Quentin lying unconscious in a field. Johanna, although she has many responsibilities and dependents, is just as isolated in her own way. A rare female doctor in 1880 and, with her father, an early proponent of the fledgling practice of psychology, she is accustomed to being mistrusted and ridiculed. Having learned from experience that if she wishes to be married she will almost certainly have to give up her calling, she has chosen to relinquish passion and dedicate her life to the care of the mentally ill.
Unfortunately, after moving their small, private asylum to a property they inherited in California, Johannaís father suffered a debilitating stroke. She is carrying on their work, but the small group of patients they brought with them cannot pay and her father is no longer able to practice, so they have no income.
Although she does not usually treat alcoholics, Johanna canít leave Quentin helpless in the dirt and takes him home with her. When he regains consciousness several days later, he knows that he should be on his way again immediately. Instead, strangely drawn to Johanna, and feeling somehow that he has found a kind of sanctuary, Quentin finds himself persuading Johanna to take him on as a patient. She justifies her own acquiescence when he shows that he can pay for the treatment.
Johanna, who uses hypnosis as a tool to treat all of her patients, soon discovers that dipsomania is not the worst of Quentinís problems. It is, however, quite some time before she realizes that the idea that heís a werewolf is more than just a metaphor for the beast he hides inside himself.
Always a powerful story teller, Susan Krinard offers another complex, richly textured tale. This is a fully realized world in which werewolves are not just possible but completely plausible. It may also be her most successfully realized romance. Iíve enjoyed her books in the past, but in some it seemed to me that the relationship took a back seat to the politics and cultural complexities of werewolf society. Interesting as it was, I found myself waiting for her to remember to move the romance forward.
Not so here. The developing romance between Quentin and Johanna is woven inextricably into the total fabric of the story. Each - whether as man and woman, or doctor and patient - has strengths, weaknesses and wounds. Both are characters whose true natures have been divided and who need each other to be complete. I was completely absorbed as they discovered each other, learned to trust each other and, in the process, learned to know and trust themselves.
The relationship also develops at a naturally restrained pace, controlled by the minds as well as the hearts and hormones of these two characters. They are drawn to each other, they want each other, but they are also highly intelligent, honest and self-aware. They are not paragons, but they are grown-ups who know that actions have consequences. Because they have to fight for their relationship, in the end it feels as though they have truly earned it.
The issue of mental illness is handled with sensitivity and compassion without losing sight of the realities of the time and place. Each of the patients Johanna cares for is a human being who makes an essential contribution to the story, which adds to the bookís depth.
This is not light entertainment, but it is a well-written, substantial and very satisfying read.