No, actually, I am not interested in the occult. And, being squeamish, I’m not so keen on horror. In fact the scenes where Jake Marlowe kills and devours his monthly prey were not my favorite bits of The Last Werewolf. I’m even a little bit vague on the lore and when the vampires appeared, was faintly confused. (Oh, yeah, vampires: no daylight, suck blood.) And, sure, when you unwrap the plot from the pretty paranormal tinsel, we have a fairly straightforward item: hero wearily fights for survival; hero discovers reason to live; hero…. well, you read it.
But it’s a new voice Glen Duncan has found and boy, is it entertaining. Jacob Marlowe, after all, is 200 years old. He’s known a lot of people, read a lot of books, memorized a lot of poetry. And, yeah, absorbed a lot of lives. (Not just the body, the whole life of his monthly victim: imagine keeping that straight in your teeming head.) There isn’t much he doesn’t know or hasn’t experienced. His sense of humor is dark: “Two nights ago I’d eaten a forty-three-year-old hedge fund specialist. I’ve been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants.”
What’s more, Jake is hyper literate, and that is the siren song for me. He pauses in some cloak-and-dagger calculation to say,
Graham Greene had a semi parodic relationship with the genres his novels exploited, a wry tolerance of their exigencies and tropes. Unavoidably I have the same relationship to my life. False IDs, code words, assignations, surveillance, night flights. Espionage flimflam. And that’s before we even begin on the Horror Story trappings. If it were a novel I’d reject it along with all other genre output that by definition short-changes reality.”
Only Jake’s story is a novel and it’s in my hands with a handsome black cover decorated with the moon in its phases. The pages are tipped with a dark red reminiscent of, oh my, dried blood. And The Last Werewolf doesn’t short-change reality. It augments reality with a set of images and ideas that we recognize and enjoy. Glen Duncan is adroit enough to include casual un-attributed literary citations (Nabokov, Blake, the Bible, Bret Easton Ellis) as well as fashionable supernatural effects to satisfy a range of readers. Elegantly. Gorily. Erotically.
So, the story? Simple enough. Werewolves have died out because they can’t breed. Jake is the last. The World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena is after him. And Jake’s reaction to this news is, really, ennui. He’s done, seen, eaten, screwed enough. Human relationships are pretty limited when you have a monthly date with the moon, so there’s a certain relief in the duel to the death with an old enemy that will probably kill him.
Then there’s a bunch of thriller stuff involving magic weapons and multiple vehicles and technical tricks. Then the story takes a screeching turn in a different direction which I won’t reveal but it’s awfully satisfying. Two final words: beach read.