"Nightwing" didn't particularly spark my interest when I picked it up a few months ago at a book sale. But after reading "Vespers" by Jeff Rovin, I wanted to continue reading anything scary about bats. Finally, I decided to give it a try after seeing Stephen King's review on the front cover: "I consider it to be one of the best horror novels in the last twenty years."
From the beginning, "Nightwing" doesn't appear like a horror book. We meet Youngman Duran, a Tewa Pueblo deputy, conversing with an old Hopi priest, his uncle, who predicts death and a new beginning for the Hopi people. Youngman doesn't pay much attention to the datura-addicted elder; he finds his prophecies almost comical.
Next Youngman is called to a ranch where three horses have been skinned and left to suffer and die. Nobody knows how it happened. Then the same thing later happens to Youngman's Hopi uncle previously mentioned, Abner Tasupi.
While Youngman is preparing the old man's body for burial, a stranger (Hayden Paine) intrudes and attempts to perform an autopsy on Abner. Paine is a bat specialist and has come up from Mexico to conduct a medical survey. Although Paine and Youngman don't get along at first, they later team up with Youngman's lover, Anne Dillon, to destroy the disease-spreading vampire bats.
The bats, however, play a very small part in this book. I wouldn't even consider it a horror book since the rough Southwest Indian lifestyle overshadows the bats. Furthermore, I'm not sure why the synopsis on the back cover focuses on a deadly mass of bloodthirsty bats when they only dominate a few scenes. I suppose it was the only way to lure anyone into reading this book.
There are some gruesome parts in Nightwing, but the worst ones I can remember are done by humans to animals. For example, a dog is suffocated in a bag instead of quarantined for the plague; a rabbit is slowly drained of blood for a sacrifice. The bat attacks didn't bother me (I expected them), but I was disgusted by the gratuitous animal torture.
The only reason why I gave this book three stars instead of two or one (which it deserved) is because it was written pretty well and there were a few times when it got exciting. Still, it was a waste of my time and I wouldn't recommend this book. It seemed pretty long too for a 210-paged book. That was probably because the chapters were on average 20 pages and paragraphs could run up to a page or more in length.
However, someone must have loved "Nightwing" because it was made into a movie in 1979. I never saw it and I doubt I will.
I do regret reading this book for the sake of bat horror. If you're looking for a good scare, read "Vespers" by Jeff Rovin, which is by far a better horror book than "Nightwing".