This is the first book I’ve ever read by Glen Duncan, and he’s written eight books. Where have I been? I wonder. I have a lot of catching up to do, because I loved this book. I love werewolf stories. There is something appealing about a character who is compelled to commit monstrous acts, but whose nature does not give him any choice in the matter. The werewolf is a tragic sort of beast, don’t you think?
Enter our werewolf protagonist, Jake Marlowe. Jake has just been given some bad news: as of a couple of nights ago, he is now the last werewolf on earth. This news is delivered apologetically by his long-time friend and human protector, Harley, a man dedicated to shielding Jake from “the Hunt,” a very determined group of werewolf hunters. According to Harley, Grainer, the head werewolf hunter, will have the honor of killing Jake himself on the next full moon. A complicated game of cat and mouse ensues as Harley and Jake try to prevent this from happening.
Two things set this book apart from other monster stories. First is Duncan’s writing style. Glen Duncan is not just a writer. He’s a writer’s writer. Which means not only can he write a rip-roaring tale filled with action, danger, humor, sex, shady characters and redemption, but he writes it beautifully. Reading his prose is like sipping liquid chocolate while soaking in a hot bath under a starry sky in a mountain-top retreat. A starry sky with a full moon, of course. The book is full of gorgeous sentences, like this one, where Jake attempts to describe a girl he has just noticed: “Certainly not ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ but Saloméishly appealing, visibly smudged with the permissive modern wisdoms.” After only a few pages of this sort of writing, one almost doesn’t care what’s happening to the story.
The second thing I loved about this story is the complete self-awareness of the monster. Unlike other werewolf stories where the human loses all sense of himself during the change and forgets what he’s done afterwards, Jake knows exactly what he is and what he’s doing as a werewolf. Becoming a wolf is a glorious, powerful, and erotic experience for Jake, whose first-person descriptions of how it feels to be in the wolf’s skin give the reader a unique experience. We know from story and myth that werewolves have enhanced senses of sight and smell, but Jake’s unique perspective turns these senses sensual. As Jake takes a life, the blood causes him to relive the victim’s life, as though watching a film strip sped up. The experience of killing seems justified, and the reader falls in love with Jake the monster.
If some of the story elements seem predictable, then Duncan can be congratulated on his ability to make the predictable seem fresh and exciting. I won’t tell you what happens mid-way through the story. I can only say that Jake’s tale becomes infinitely more interesting, and readers will tear through the book at a breakneck pace to find out what happens. What more can one ask of a great book?