Which scares you most?
A. A horror story about a werewolf killing teenage girls.
B. A mystery about a murderer running with wild wolves.
C. A sentimental tale about a helpful, reincarnated dog.
If you answered C, join my pack. All three of these novels feature fangs, fur and claws, but their approaches to canines are as wildly divergent as Scooby-Doo is from Cujo.
1A vampire, a giant and a werewolf walk into a high school. No, it’s not a joke, nor (sadly) a lost episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In Hemlock Grove (Farrar Straus Giroux; paperback, $15), Brian McGreevy takes Gothic horror conventions and sets them in the ruins of a Pennsylvania industrial town. Peter Rumancek is the new boy, rumored to be a werewolf. (One of the chapters is titled “A Very Hirsute Young Man.”) The rumors heat up after a local girl is murdered by something with really big teeth. Roman Godfrey, a pale teen as highly persuasive as he is highly strung, is the scion of a steel baron who switched to biotech. His sister Shelley — note the name — is a misshapen giant whose muteness hides a keen intelligence. Roman and Peter join forces to find the killer, but Hemlock Grove is teeming with suspects, including both boys, a mad scientist with more than a little in common with Dr. Moreau, and Roman’s terrifying mother. This is straight-ahead horror with a respect for its literary antecedents. Netflix is turning the novel into an original series, directed by Eli Roth, who has the dubious distinction of bringing “torture porn” to the masses (“Hostel,” ad nauseam). Fictional high schools are now so crowded with the supernatural that there are more creatures than cheerleaders, but “Hemlock Grove” offers horror that hasn’t been sparkled up or watered down.
2BK Loren’s debut novel, Theft (Counterpoint; paperback, $16), might demand a bigger suspension of disbelief than McGreevy’s monsters. Willa Robbins, a naturalist working to reintroduce the Mexican wolf into the wilderness, is called in to track her big brother, Zeb, who has confessed to a murder and disappeared. (Law enforcement officers always bring in a suspect’s little sister on a manhunt — it’s standard operating procedure.) If you can get past that set-up, Loren offers a well-written literary mystery set in the Colorado mountains, where “not fitting in was the only way to fit in.” Zeb, who once stole all the belts from a man who beat his dog, is a charismatic antihero, and it’s easy to see why Willa followed him everywhere — even into other people’s houses. Loren has worked as a large-predator monitor, and her scenes involving wolves are particularly well done.
3All dogs go to heaven, but Buddy is sure taking his time. In W. Bruce Cameron’s 2010 bestseller, “A Dog’s Purpose,” the lovable mutt was reincarnated multiple times to help take care of his boy, Ethan. But after Ethan’s death in old age, Buddy isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do. In this sequel, A Dog’s Journey (Forge, $24.99), Buddy meets Ethan’s toddler granddaughter, Clarity June, who nearly gets herself drowned and trampled by a horse. He’s found his new mission! Several years later, when Clarity’s narcissistic, dog-hating mother removes her from the family farm, Buddy gets reincarnated as Molly, who discovers that the teenage Clarity needs a friend more than ever. I enjoyed the first half of “A Dog’s Journey,” but the second half gets bogged down in melodrama, which you’re sure to detect in DreamWorks’s forthcoming version of “A Dog’s Purpose.” These stories have less irony than a greeting card with a puppy on the front.
Zipp regularly reviews books for The Post and the Christian Science Monitor.