‘It’s official,’ Harley said. ‘They killed the Berliner two nights ago. You’re the last.’ Then after a pause: ‘I’m sorry.’
Glen Duncan’s great strength is his voice – he can impersonate monsters and draw from us a sympathetic response, as he did with Satan in I, Lucifer. In this story of the last werewolf we’re invited into the mind of Jake Marlowe, a civilised man who must kill humans or die himself. There’s no get-out for the reader, no easy acceptance of the excuse of necessity. Marlowe rubs our noses in the graphic, sensual detail of what he has to do. As a werewolf, he wants to kill, because it’s the purest expression of who he is.
Harley is Marlowe’s protector, a man he saved from death, and a mole inside the organisation dedicated to destroying all werewolves. Grainer is the head of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), whose father was killed by Marlowe. For him it’s personal. But he won’t kill Marlowe in his human form – it must be when he’s transformed into a wolf. In this last month of Marlowe’s life he is at once protected and kept under surveillance as Grainer waits for his kill.
And Marlowe wants to die. He’s been 30 years old for the last 167 years and could live to 400. He’s left behind love and shame. Now there’s only a weary disgust, so he will let Grainer kill him at the next full moon. Except that’s not what Grainer wants. He wants Marlowe to fight for his life because only that will satisfy his need for revenge.
It gets much more complicated than that. The book is written as Marlowe’s journal, covering three moons. There is plenty of action, indeed it reads very much like a spy thriller sometimes, with daring escapes and the use of hi-tech gadgetry by both Marlowe and his adversaries. He has the advantage over James Bond in being able to heal quickly from wounds that would kill a human.
There are also extended periods of reflection in which he tells his story and philosophises about the wolf condition. It’s a measure of Duncan’s skill as a writer that the latter do not detract from the pace of the book. They are practically unavoidable, given that WOCOP will only try to kill him on the one night out of 28 when Marlowe’s a wolf. What to do with the rest of the month? Fortunately for us there are other ‘occult phenomena’ to move the plot along.
That said, the plot is the weakest element in the novel. It’s episodic, glued together by Marlowe’s admittedly absorbing memories and reflections, and there are two potentially crucial developments that Duncan takes up only to discard. One has a direct bearing on the final scene. It’s almost as if he forgot about it. More than that, the plot splits the book into two halves, introducing a deus ex machina not foreshadowed in the first half. Necessary in retrospect, but also clumsy.
I can forgive all this because Duncan’s voice is a powerful unifying element, giving the wolf a raunchy, funny, violent, sensual, philosophical soap box. My sympathies are with Marlowe, struggling to survive in a world where every hand is turned against him. Duncan turns him into the most unlikely underdog.