Delirium Books, 2011
Back in October I was looking for some lesser known horror to read when I stumbled upon Michael McBride’s Predatory Instinct. The premise: scientists discover a heretofore unknown “proto-human ancestor” that is not-so-extinct. Said discovery is captured by a power-hungry head of a Blackwater like mercenary company but of course things go wrong and the creature escapes to the streets of Seattle where it is up to Elena Sturm of the Seattle PD and Grey Porter of the FBI to track the creature down. What ensues is a by-the-numbers creature novel that shows brief flairs of originality but never manages to rise above its cookie-cutter characters.
It is worth noting that Predatory Instinct is a vampire novel of sorts. It is not a vampire novel in the traditional sense but a vampire novel none-the-less. McBride deserves credit for inventing a fascinating creature whose biological and physiological make-up is one of the more fascinating and original takes on vampires that I’ve seen in a while. The word vampire is never even mentioned but the link is there and the subtle nod to that genre is well-done.
The thing with monster/slasher based horror is that in order for the premise to really work you need to employ one of several methods. In some of the best horror media we care about our characters/victims: viewers are invested in Laurie’s survival in Halloween just as we are right behind Chief Brody in his quest to make the beach a safer place for tourists and family alike. In other horror we sympathize with the monster like in Frankenstein or, though not quite horror, understand (and root for) the serial killer Dexter Morgan. Unfortunately Predatory Instinct really doesn’t take either of these methods. While late in the novel there is an attempt made to cast the creature into a sympathetic light it feels like too little too late. While it is easy to loath General Spears he feels like a caricature more than a real human being and our protagonists Sturm and Porter never rise above their cliched portrayal. Sturm comes closest to feeling like a real person but the novel is split too evenly between Spears, Porter and Sturm for readers to ever really latch on to her as an individual.
With ineffectual characters and a predictable plot I found Predatory Instinct a difficult novel to finish. There are some flairs of creativity and originality across the novel but by and large I’d advise steering clear. McBride walks the thriller/horror line a bit too closely for my taste and the atmosphere and dread of a horror novel are jettisoned in favor of a more rapid fire and, to my tastes, antiseptic approach to horror. Even so the action tends to fall flat and the heroes remain unconvincing. Predatory Instinct is a flat out disappointing read.