It’s October! Are you thinking about Halloween yet? Gearing up for a little monster book mash? For some readers October is the month when they realize they haven’t read a horror novel in a while. For others it’s the month when they intentionally add horror novels to their reading schedule. Or perhaps you regularly read horror and need a break from all the vampires and zombies in your life? Whatever your relationship with horror novels, if you're in the mood for one, I recommend Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf.
I first heard about this novel months ago when Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand podcast strongly recommended it as a great addition to the tradition of literary horror novels. It's been on my TBR list since then, but I finally took action and got on the library waiting list after my friend Noah, a former Borders coworkers, decided to start a book group and this is his first pick.
The Last Werewolf tells the tale of Jake Marlowe, a guy who happens to be the last living werewolf. Werewolves have been hunted to the brink of extinction by WOCOP: World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena.
In 1842 at the age of 34, Marlowe was accidentally bitten by a werewolf while masturbating alongside a stream in Snowdonia. At the opening of the novel, which is set in contemporary times, Marlowe is 200 years old. The lifespan of a werewolf is 400 years, so Marlowe is basically a middle aged guy who’s a bit tired of it all—the monthly transformation, keeping his edge against WOCOP, and killing time. Being a modern day werewolf is tiring: in order to survive, Marlowe’s kills are carefully planned: victims are chosen with care and get-away plans are established well in advance. Marlowe has done some work for the good of humanity, fighting against evil regimes around the world, but now he's experiencing the shock fatigue and exhaustion that's infected western civilization. Or perhaps he's simply transferring his exhaustion and lack of purpose--his existential angst--onto western society. Harley, Marlowe's requisite human side-kick, refers to Marlowe's funk as an "absurd suicidal melodrama" (43).
Now that he's the last of his kind, Marlowe is ready to roll over and let Grainer, the star werewolf hunter, kill him. Forty years ago, Marlowe killed and ate Grainer's father and Grainer wants a spectacular fight at the end, not an easy slaughter, and so he does something that would provoke most people to action (and Marlowe very clearly considers himself human), but it fails to get Marlowe’s fur up. Then Marlowe discovers that the vampires are interested in keeping him alive. Yes, there are vampires in this novel.
While vampires and werewolves are not friends, they usually leave one another alone. Vampires have some rather constipated philosophies about why vampires are better than werewolves and so it’s a bit odd that vampires now want to ensure Marlowe’s survival.
Add to all of this a sudden, all-consuming reason for Marlowe to want to live and the life-or-death chase is on. There are some nice surprises along the way.
Werewolves live solitary lives controlled by the cycles of the moon. Eating people, killing, and fucking are their main activities. In between they drink a lot of alcohol (only good quality stuff, mind you) and chain smoke (it can’t harm them due to their hyped up healing abilities). And Marlowe is a gentleman: he uses a condom with prostitutes. I'm no prude, but at times I got a little tired of the sex, drinking, and smoking, but that's Marlowe's world. Need I add that this is not a book for kids? If there's ever a faithful movie adaptation, it will be at least R rated.
The Last Werewolf lacks the scary, creepy, I'm-afraid-to-be-alone-are-the-doors-and-windows-locked elements that I most enjoy in horror novels. In fact, at times it reads more like a thriller, like a serial killer or crime family novel. I also found myself getting annoyed with the narrator around page 42, but shortly after that the book really picked up and I stayed engaged until the end. The last 40 pages were also somewhat hard to take--it started sounding like a TV crime show--but there were some interesting developments at the end. Overall, I enjoyed the book, perhaps not enough to rave about it for a general audience, but enough to recommend it to those who enjoy horror novels.
According to this interview with Glen Duncan, the sequel is already written (and presumably due out in 2012) and there's a third scheduled for 2013. I wasn't surprised to hear that since he left a few strings hanging (the ancient book, something sticking in Marlowe's mind about Madeline in the hotel room, and what's revealed at the end).
If you like your monsters to be literate guys who wax philosophic over good scotch, Marlowe’s your man.
If you like your werewolves to be flesh ripping beasts that fornicate like dogs in heat, Marlowe’s your man.
If you like a world where love (yes, love) and stories still matter, Duncan's latest novel is your book.
The Last Werewolf
NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011