David Drake/Karl Edward Wagner
Killer (1985)
Reviewed: 2002-08-31

Ancient Rome, during the reign of Emperor Domitian (C.E. 81-96). Lycon is a hunter, a beastcatcher. He journeys to faraway countries to trap the dangerous and exotic animals his friend Vonones deals in. They supply wild beasts for the bloodsports in Rome's ever hungry arena. In one of his deals Vonones has picked up a strange blue-skinned creature, half ape, half lizard. As he shows it to Lycon, even the experienced hunter professes to have never seen such an animal before. When the creature manages to escape, neither man nor beast prove to be a match for its deadly talons and cunning intelligence. As a living terror is unleashed on the mighty city of Rome, Lycon and Vonones must catch the creature so the Emperor may enjoy its ferocity in the arena. If they should fail, Domitian will be only too happy to substitute them for the same pleasure. As the chase drags on, a strange foreign hunter of curious bearing, wondrous ability, and questionable motive enters the fray. Carnage ensues.

This unpretentious adventure yarn was expanded from an eponymous 1974 novelette, which makes up the first two chapters of the novel and successfully evokes the style of Robert E. Howard's hack-and-slash pulp stories. Although some of the mystique is lost by adding a space operatic background, the new material remains reasonably true to the flair of the original story. Inevitably, there are also echoes of A.E. van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" and "Discord in Scarlet". It makes for gory fun, if that's your thing.

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