A book person I know, whose opinion I trust and respect, sidled up to me a few months ago and told me to keep my eyes out for Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (Alfred A. Knopf, $26).
“I think this one could be big,” he said.
Many moons have passed, but I finally got around to reading Duncan’s book, just to see what all the howling was about. And my friend was right: The Last Werewolf is very good. It’s raunchy and raw, fast-moving and well-written—a thriller in every sense of the word. It may not be a book for the ages—it’s doubtful Duncan will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Shelley and Stoker—but The Last Werewolf is ambitious and entertaining, and a perfect summer read.
Jake Marlowe, the titular beast of our story, has been a werewolf for 167 years. Attacked at age 34, his former life destroyed, Marlowe has survived by reconciling himself to the violent hunger that comes once a month. In Duncan’s universe, werewolves are being systematically exterminated by WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena), a group led by Grainer, an ace hunter whose father was eaten by Marlowe, and Ellis, Grainer’s overly ambitious protégé. Aiding and abetting Jake is Harley, his gay guardian angel who owes Marlowe his life.
Vampires are also part of the mix, which means they can only pursue Marlowe when the lighting suits them. Duncan, in summing up the differences between vampires and werewolves, says it best: “The vampire gets immortality, immense physical strength, hypnotic ability, the power of flight, psychic grandeur and emotional depth. The werewolf gets dyslexia and a permanent erection.” (Bonus: When it comes to capturing Marlowe’s lusty nature, Duncan delivers the goods.)
Duncan’s masterstroke, I think, was giving us such a tired, world-weary werewolf. Jake has lived too many lifetimes without love; he’s tired of living and ready to die. That’s not good enough for Grainer, who wants one final werewolf trophy, or the vampires who want Marlowe for their own purposes. Need another plot complication? Duncan’s got one—a real game-changer—that raises the (wooden) stakes a little.
In another writer’s hands, The Last Werewolf might have been wall-to-wall action; Duncan wrote The Last Werewolf as a series of chase sequences, taking us all over the globe (London, Paris, Wales, Greece, California and New York), but it’s as much about the pursuit of love as anything else. Duncan isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but deserves credit for putting a new spin on an old tale and giving The Last Werewolf some bite.