The Original’s Return is the first in a series of supernatural horror books by British author David Watkins. It is the first of two books, so far. The sequel is called The Original’s Retribution and is on my radar to be my next read. David Watkins is from Devon in the UK and lives there with his wife, two sons and dog. He is a full time teacher but fills his spare time with writing. As well as the “The Originals” series, he has had a short story called Presents of Mind published in a collection called When Red Snow Melts. He also released an excellent, old school horror novel called The Devil’s Inn which I read, thoroughly enjoyed and you can read the review of here.
“Sergeant Peter Knowles has seen it all: in Afghanistan he witnessed death on a level that no-one should walk away from. Returning to Britain, he jumps at the chance to lead a small team in Devon. The task sounds more like a holiday; exactly what Knowles and his men need.
The mission: watch Jack Stadler.
When the first dismembered body is found, Knowles begins to realise he has made a terrible mistake…..”
The Original’s Return is a story that is told predominantly from two perspectives. That of Jack Stadler, the watched, and that of Sergeant Knowles, the watcher. We start off with Jack, learning about his reasonably normal life as he is out for a morning jog with his dog, Ginny. All is pretty normal, until Ginny goes missing to be heard whimpering in the distance. Jack is concerned. After all, he and Ginny run in these woods every day and have done for years. What could possibly spook her? Jack finds Ginny, who appears to be petrified, and he also finds a small hole. Suddenly the small hole becomes a large one as the ground beneath Jack collapses and he falls inside.
One of the things I like about David Watkins writing style in The Original’s Return is his willingness to kick straight on with the story. Yes we want and need back story and we will get it but let’s get on with the story at the same time. The back story will come as we progress.
Back to Jack and he has a situation. His phone is smashed but his fall has also been broken by a concrete table with some sort of long pointy spear sticking out from the top of it. Importantly, it is also sticking through his back and out through his chest. As Jack tries to comprehend his situation, he notices a few things. The first of these is that he isn’t in any pain. There is also no blood and finally, the thing sticking through him appears to be a large bone. He isn’t having a great morning.
Possibly through adrenaline, shock or pure disbelief, Jack manages to free himself. He investigates himself and appears to be fine, physically at least. He investigates the cave he has found himself in and finds that the concrete table appears to be some sort of altar with devilish, occult like, carvings on it. As readers, we know this isn’t good though Jack is still just dazed and lost at how his morning has gone. As time passes, he is found and eventually rescued from the cave. Upon his freedom, he finds out that his pregnant wife, Katie, has gone into labour.
We get to learn more about Jack, and Katie, as the story progresses in a very normal fashion. The baby is born, Katie has to stay in hospital. Jack goes home for a shower then, slowly, little hints start to come through. His dog starts growling and acting threatening towards him, he wakes up naked on the floor, not knowing how he got there, his prize guitar is smashed and then a neighbour informs him of a sheep that was killed by an animal in the night. Something isn’t right with Jack Stadler.
Not long after this Sergeant Peter Knowles is commanded to put together a team. This team consists of Knowles and four others, Carruthers, Scarlet, Jones and Meyers. We quickly learn that these squaddies are a strong, experienced unit with over 30 years of tours between them, most recently in Afghanistan. Knowles and his unit are assigned to go to Devon and watch a civilian for a month. They can’t understand why they would be off on such a holiday and neither they, nor us, are told what it is about Jack Stadler that has senior military figures so interested. Still, off they go with the simple mission of “watch him and report back anything that may seem a little odd”.
In Devon, Jack is still having “issues”. He has woken naked in a few random places, never hungry though. A few more local animals have been attacked by a “dog” and he realises something isn’t right though still has no idea on what it is that is actually wrong. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, 5 guys on a vacation have moved in to the house nearby and part one of their vacation plans involve them getting cameras and mics into Jacks house. Carruthers, their tech wizard, makes his way into the house while Jack and the family are asleep. Despite his skills, and expert silence, Jack hears him and attacks him. From Carruthers point of view though he is attacked by a huge black dog.
With Jack in denial still and Carruthers believing he was attacked by a dog, life continues. The squaddies get bored watching a mostly unspectacular man do very little of note and Jack has a relatively normal, aside from a few moments, time of it. Then things change up about three or four gears.
We readers know that Jack is a werewolf and now it seems that he isn’t the only one. A local pack emerges from the shadows and attempts to turn Jack to their cause. They claim him to be different. They call him an original – essentially a God among werewolves and something long believed to be dead. Despite Jack’s changes he wants no part of it. He hates what is happening to him and just wants a normal life with his wife and kid. Unfortunately normal is behind him now as all hell breaks loose.
Knowles and his team try to capture him while simultaneously trying to keep him and the local populace alive. The other werewolf packs join forces and attempt to destroy the army and claim Jack as theirs. This all leads to a brutal and all encompassing battle where everyone’s life is at stake. Just who will survive? What path will Jack take? Can he ever have a normal life again? What about his wife and kid? Will Knowles and his team make it? Will they ever holiday in Devon again if they do? You will have to read The Original’s Return to find out.
I really enjoyed The Original’s Return. It definitely leads towards the science fiction and fantasy side of horror but there is plenty of tension, and gore, for the horror fan to relish in too. Grisly deaths, brutal slayings and dismemberments are plentiful here. Tension comes in many forms. We have the obvious but effective “who will make it through” but also a lot of emotional tension in Jack’s plight and that of his family and of course, Knowles team.
This comes through well in The Original’s Return because of how wonderfully described and full the characters are. You can visualise them and their surroundings. Naturally you care about Katie and their child. You fear for Jack, despite his early “jack the lad” sort of characteristics. As a fan of all things military, I was impressed with the accuracy of all the military elements within too. This added a sense of realism and helped me buy into the army unit. Knowles especially.
I love it when an author invokes that much feeling within his writing and have to commend David Watkins for another well written story. Plotwise, I guess you could say that there isn’t anything overly original. Man becomes werewolf, kills some sheep, the army want him and other werewolves do too culminating in a lot of death. Having said that, Jack and Knowles, and their decisions especially, add a little freshness to what could have been a stale tale. The idea of “an original, godlike werewolf, is also a nice touch and will excite fans of the supernatural.
Overall, The Original’s Return is a good story told really well. The characters are fresh and dynamic and I am excited to get cracking on the next in the series. Just like in The Devil’s Inn, you really have to commend the artwork/photography used on the front cover. Not only is it a great picture but it adds a sense of mystery and intrigue before you even start the story.
Find out more about David and his writings on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and at his author pages on Amazon and Goodreads. You can pick up The Original’s Return and more of his work from the Amazon links below.
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The Original's Return by David Watkins