S. Andrew Swann
Forests of the Night (1993)
Moreau #1
Reviewed: 1999-04-25

Swann's first novel is of the hard-boiled detective kind, with a twist. Nohar Rajasthan is a private investigator who lives in a decrepit apartment, his personal life has just gone to hell, he's short of money, and he doesn't accept certain kinds of jobs. When he does this time, against his better knowledge, he is promptly drawn into trouble way over his head. Does that sound original?

The twist is in the setting of mid-21st century Cleveland and the background Swann develops. The moreaus are anthropomorphized animals. Originally designed as workers, the gengineered dogs, foxes, tigers, jaguars, rats, rabbits, bears, etc. were quickly used and specially adapted as soldiers in a horrible war that swept over Asia. Now there are millions of them, with a traumatic past and no future to look forward to. Many immigrated into the United States were they make up a despised underclass that has taken over the slums. The only person less popular than a moreau is a frank, a human frankenstein, product of outlaw nations that never subscribed to the United Nations' ban on the manipulation of human genetic material.

Nohar Rajasthan is a moreau, a descendant of nuked India's special forces, derived from Panthera tigris. 260 centimeters and 300 kilograms of tiger tend to instill some respect. He also cares tenderly for the house cat he keeps as a pet. Nohar never takes on cases involving humans, but this time he really, really needs the money, and so he agrees to investigate the probable murder of a campaign manager of a politician running for the Senate. What he gets himself into is eventually much bigger than anything he or the reader would have expected.

Forests of the Night tries to be a "furry" novel. We experience the world through Nohar's perceptions, his acute sense of smell, his bad daylight vision, the barrage of little inconveniences brought on by his size and having fur and tail in an environment designed by humans. I'm not sure how successful this is. Nohar feels like any other human protagonist, his "furriness" is all on the outside, an add-on really. He has his share of traumas, but these could have happened to a human just as well. The other moreaus also fit the various human stereotypes you would expect from this kind of detective novel, with superficial animal traits tacked on.

Swann knows how to spin an entertaining yarn, though. The novel opens with a scene of violent action and there is plenty more to follow later. The mystery is fair to the reader, the details aren't overly contrived.

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