If you Google best werewolf novels, you come up with a legion of—I'm sorry Twilight fans—clichéd poop. Vampire fans have the inheritance of Stoker or Le Fanu from a century or two ago, but Werewolvians, well, they have to drop back to the tradition of Shapeshifting for the demi-gods of this genre.(1) Maybe the nascent classic here is Wagner The Wehr-Wolf from 1847 by George W.M. Reynolds, or Dumas' 1857 novel The Wolf Leader, but who in the hell has read these? I know, I know, there's King, there's Tessier, there's even Somtow plus a bunch more tossed about the science-fiction-fantasy-horror used bookstore reading bins.(2) But there's nothing like the brutal and contemplative interment of The Last Werewolf, at least not on my nightstand.
Jake Marlowe is not a happy man. And living 200 years hasn't helped his mood much, either. See, Jake's a, yeah, you guessed it, and, even more remarkable, he's a traditional woofer, in that the shapeshift is a one-night-per-month deal, eating is a ravishing feral-fest of lust and strength, healing is True Blood -like fast, and silver is his kryptonite. Of course, Jake doesn't live in our world: he's been hunted for centuries by a band of Blackwater-type(4) bullies called WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena) bent on wiping out all of his kind. There's also Vampires who've become a lot more socio-politico adept at lobbying themselves out of genocide, plus nary a cop on the corner or any citizens in sight who aren't future chew toys. Anotherwords, the author has left the doors open for any dues ex machina moments he might need later on in the plotting.
This is all well and good, because through the first half of the novel, no plotting is really needed. This is 1st-person narrative, so it's all about bounding around with Jake. And he's the kinda guy you really want to hear about, just not hang with between the waxing and waning of the ol' Gibbous Moon. You see, Jake's got the suavely-hip, so-cool, nihilistic ‘Tude, dude. Now, he's never gotten over being accidentally gobbled by a hell-bent, escaping howler—BTW, it's the same scenario for Talulla later on—but, what's far worse is that he “killed and ate love”(Knopf, ISBN 9780307595089, c.2012, p.74). The wulf ratcheted up Desire in newbie Jake so he would perform the most despicable act for its release: “that first, fine, careless rapture”(p.68) of devouring his loving wife and unborn child. The incredible sticking point of author Duncan's work is that uber-cynical and shamefaced Jake remains a commiserable character throughout the work. Of course it doesn't hurt when his adversaries—the Hunters and the Vampires—are morally bankrupt, ego ugly, and ambition addicted.
The back-sided facet of Jake's once-a-month fang mask has forced his moral code into the inescapable closet of Atonement. One of the many provocative, one-liner word bullets he fires at you is “the only thing to do with atrocity is chronicle it”(p.66), meaning stick to the facts, not the feelings of, let's say, the Holocaust so you can avoid understanding it and go on living with it. But Jake is the atrocity without possibility of repentance because in this “accidental epic of ordinariness [life] goes on [in] a godless universe of flailing contingency”(p.181). Alas, God's only Commandment is to live, as he has abandoned this world, leaving it by vulgarly “yoking consciousness to meat”(p.69). Therefore, to live, Jake can only embrace the “morally cozy” message of abomination, “but only while unhinged by grief or wrath”(p.194).
The Last Werewolf takes up as Jake has reached the final dichotomy in his wulf philosophy. With his enemies laying siege to his upcoming transformation, he's concluded that life without love-sharing-nurturing will always be without true bliss, and his fatal mistake was instead of eating his wife, he should have turned her. Well, all of that predictably changes while racing into the final pages.
Because another werewolf appears. To Jake, first sight of Talulla is “just nonnegotiable gravity, a fall to the pure animal bitch like the guillotine's blade to its block”. As a human, she was “Salomeishly appealing, visibly smudged with the permissive modern wisdoms”(p.158). As lycanthrope, she has faced Kurtz's(3) horror of horrors—herself—and has chosen accommodation over dying.
She, of course, adds complications to his life—and plot complications ensue. Now, instead of finding the most scornful way to die in the hands of his snobbish enemies, he must find a way for both of them to live. From the mainstream of a lost, tortured soul, the novel runs head first into ticking-clock thriller. The Hunters change priorities; the Vampires suddenly want Jake alive; Lulu is kidnapped; pressure applied; hidden motivations surface. But
And you know when the narrative is handed over to Talulla twenty pages or so from the end, Jake ain't gonna make it. Yeah, his loss will be missed, but it is the machinations author Duncan takes to get there that is circumspect. About halfway through the book, Jake ruminates on modern media culture and about how it emphasizes the all-consuming desire for people to transform themselves. “When you can watch the alchemy that turns morons into millionaires and gimps into global icons, where's the thrill in men who turn into wolves?”(p.153).
And that's it: I want Jake baying into the storm like Lear on the moors, not falling into some entanglement of plot strings. And—romantic notions aside—I don't think Talulla will carry on the agony of existential neglect or skeptical inevitability. I mean, "she could become Kali"(p.203), for God's sake.
But that's another book.
2)I'm purposefully not mentioning cinema's contribution—1935's Werewolf of London, 1941's The Wolfman, 1981's An American Werewolf in London, 2002's Dog Soldiers—as to not confuse the bookgeeks. And, yeah, cameras seem better portals than paper for this relatively still-pure classification, unless you get lost in the Howling, Ginger Snaps, Twilight, and Underworld re-mashes.
4) Blackwater changed its name to Xe Services, then, in December of 2011, changed its name again to Academi. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204319004577089021757803802.html