Take a quick glance at the cover and synopsis of “Breed,” by Chase Novak, and you’ll instantly think of Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s an easy comparison, both are horror novels involving pregnancy and children. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see other connections--both novels are set in upscale Manhattan and involve characters who are all elite and well-to-do. And just like Levin, Novak seems to use his novel to make statements about the wealthy just as much as scare the reader.
As “Breed” begins we meet Alex and Leslie Twisden. He’s a rich lawyer with a valuable townhouse; she is beautiful and intelligent, working in the publishing industry and careful not to be perceived as Alex’s trophy wife. But they’re not happy. They want a child, have tried everything but can’t conceive. Almost out of hope, they hear of an experimental procedure available in Eastern Europe. They go and meet an old doctor who injects them with something mysterious, a concoction that mixes together a number of animal hormones. Reading these first few chapters made me really appreciate first-world medicine...
“Breed” then shifts forward 10 years. Leslie had twins from this strange procedure, a boy and girl named Alex and Alice. They seem healthy, it’s a shame the same couldn’t be said about the parents. Alas, the mysterious injection has turned Alex and Leslie animalistic. They have hair sprouting all over their bodies and they find it difficult to speak or form words. They also begin to discover a taste for live animal flesh. Family pets begin to disappear, and one night as the twins overhear their parents they wonder if they will be next.
Before the plot begins to drag, Novak (actually the pen name for best selling author Scott Spencer) has little Alex and Alice escape their apartment and out into the streets of New York. Like two wolves, Alex and Leslie go after them. Much of the rest of the novel becomes a game of cat and mouse (pun only halfway intended), as the parents try to find the twins and bring them back home.
Novak misses the boat a little with this novel. We see too quickly what has happened to Alex and Leslie so any suspense about what has happened to them is lost, and there are far too many secondary characters muddying up the pages. But as a quick horror read, “Breed” still works. There are some very gruesome images here, touches of cannibalism and Novak does a good job keeping the novel moving along. This is one of the books you don't want to put down until you reach the last page.
I also wonder if Novak was trying to tell a deeper story here, which brings me back to Levin. His novels always seemed to poke a little fun at its characters (apparent in “Rosemary’s Baby” but also in novels like “The Stepford Wives”), and “Breed” does much the same. It is interesting that this experimental procedure, only available for rich couples willing to travel halfway across the world and spend thousands of dollars, turns them into animals feasting on raw flesh and wanting to literally eat their young. Is Novak trying to make some kind of statement about the wealthy? Or have I just been reading too much about “one-percenters” and bank bailouts? No matter. There are very few horror novels published these days that are worth recommending, and while “Breed” is no great piece of horror literature, it’s definitely one to read.