The Last Werewolf
by Glen Duncan
This is the third Glen Duncan book I’ve read, and probably the one I’ve liked the most. I enjoyed I, Lucifer, and I thought Death of an Ordinary Man was just too damn depressing; but I thought the concept of this one suited Duncan perfectly. In every case, I’ve been struck by the poetry of the man’s writing, and this one was no exception; but Duncan seems to be best with switching between sacred and profane, going from lyrical descriptions and philosophic ponderings to filth and dirt and blood-sex-death. And what could be better for that than a book about werewolves?
I admit I was a bit less enamored of the basic plot of this book, at least in the beginning. The idea (no spoilers – at least no big ones) is that the hero, Jake Marlowe, is the last living werewolf. It has been more than a century since a person was turned by being bitten; the theory is that a virus of some kind has arisen that makes the transformation impossible. Jake is still alive because once turned, werewolves can survive for centuries; unless they are killed by fire or silver.
Unfortunately for Jake, there is a group of humans who have been hunting down werewolves. With fire and silver. That’s why he is now the last: this group has killed every other surviving werewolf. And now they’re coming for him.
But they want to make it interesting. For the lead Hunter, Jake’s death is personal, and he wants to take him out, mano a – I guess lupo? But there’s a snag with this plan: Jake is ready to die.
That’s the part that makes this book depressing; which also seems to be a Glen Duncan specialty, because both of the others I read were equally dark and melancholy, Death of an Ordinary Man even more so. This one spends a fair amount of time going through Jake’s malaise and the reasons for it. I will say that I understand why he feels that way, which made it a little easier to take. There’s something else, though: even when he’s in the depths of it (I’ll spoil the book this much: this blue funk of Jake’s does not last. I won’t spoil it by telling you why it ends.), it feels insincere. It’s like he’s trying to force himself to believe there is no point in going on; wracked by guilt, Jake feels as though there shouldn’t be any hope for him, and so he convinces himself there’s not.
But that doesn’t work for the Hunters. And so they try to force Jake to rise to the occasion, to give them some kind of grand final fight. And that’s the story of the book: the Hunters trying to provoke Jake, and Jake responding to their provocation. And throughout, Duncan does a masterful job of blending the two sides of Jake’s personality, and matching them with his prose: there is the man who has been alive for 200 years, who has learned everything there is to know (at least everything he wants to know) and who understands far too much about the apparent futility of existence; and then there’s the Wolf, who wants to run, and hunt, and mate, and kill; kind of all at the same time.
So the book has a lot of sex (a LOT of sex), and a lot of violence and blood and death; pretty gruesome stuff, too – the violence, not the sex. Lots of foul language, too. The sex is largely unloving, mostly lusty and sometimes dirty; but it suits the character and the feel of the book. There’s good action, along with that, though much of it is brought a little low by Jake’s indifference to his own life: he doesn’t really fight very hard for a lot of it, and that makes the action, well, anticlimactic. Honestly, I didn’t much like the Hunter organization; I suppose it’s possible that such a thing could exist, in a supernatural world, and even be fairly effective – but they’re the biggest kids on the block, and in a world that has werewolves and vampires, I have some trouble accepting that. Seems like the superpowered immortal things would be able to do some real harm to a human organization. But any road, the story takes a great turn, and the second half of the book is far more interesting – and the first half is pretty damn interesting. Jake is a good character, and Duncan is a hell of a writer, even when he’s being depressing and angsty.
The ending is sad. Again, maybe a Duncan standard: the three books I’ve read all end sadly. But this one is largely redeemed by the circumstances of that sad ending, which may be why I liked this one best. It was very good. I recommend it.
And holy crap: I just found out that this is actually the first book in a trilogy. Okay, now that makes the ending even less sad, because it isn’t actually the ending! Now I have to go read the others!