Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

<p><em>Tom Tivnan writes:</em></p>
<p>If most debuts are autobiographical, perhaps we should worry a bit about <a href=" Barlow</a>. The American's novel in verse <em>Sharp Teeth</em> (Wm Heinemann, August) is set among packs of werewolves that rove about the grimy Los Angeles underbelly. Whether or not Barlow can grow fangs and fur at will (the full moon stuff is just mythical nonsense, we are told), the book is audacious, original and loads of fun. Part Coleridge, part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it may very well be the best debut this year. The story begins with Anthony who has just taken a job as an LA dogcatcher, bringing him unwittingly into contact with the hidden world of werewolves, where rival packs square off in power struggles. Lark is the leader of one pack, with a never named single female of the group &mdash; but then one of his &quot;dogs&quot; Baron launches an attack and pulls off a coup. While Lark plots his revenge, the bemused and bewildered cop Peabody investigates; meanwhile Anthony falls in love with the female from Lark's pack, and gets closer and closer to the werewolf world. Barlow manages to balance the blood and gore (and lots of it) with humour and a surprising tenderness; Anthony's love story is particularly poignant. The verse form may put some people off Sharp Teeth, and that would be a pity. The language is neither flowery or gimmicky, but economical and beautiful, with perhaps more in common with that other chronicler of LA&rsquo;s underside, Raymond Chandler, than any poet.</p>