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Glen Duncan
The Last Werewolf
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Alfred A. Knopf / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-307-59508-9
Publication Date: 07-11-2011
297 Pages ; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 08-01-2011

Index:  Horror  Fantasy  Mystery  General Fiction

The world is too much with us. Every morning, we hope for something to offer a reason to live, and all too often we are given just enough to make it to the end of the day. Whether we want to or not, we just keep going, even though our lives lack a coherent plot line. Jake Marlowe does not have that problem. In Glen Duncan's superb 'The Last Werewolf,' he's embroiled in plot and story up to his shape-shifting eyebrows.

But even with all the blessings of a good story, Jake is tired of life. He's had two-hundred plus years of it, and he could give a toss. As the novel opens, he's informed that he's officially the last of his kind. He's OK with that; the end cannot come soon enough. Readers are likely to differ with that diagnosis. 'The Last Werewolf' is a superb novel that will give them reason to live for as many days as it takes to read it. And for most, that will be just about one.

Duncan captures readers from the outset with a strong, literate voice and a plot delivered with outstanding economy. Jake tells the story in the first person, and he's a gentleman we're happy to hear from. He's intelligent, blackly humorous, and accomplished beyond mortal measure but not egotistical. He manages to make readers feel that they, too might be living a life like his had they been bitten by a werewolf back in the 19th century. Jake's life if not all that easy, but it has its rewards. On one hand, he has to kill and eat a human every month, and that human soul will settle in his as part of an ever-growing chorus of voices to haunt him. But in his many years, he's accumulated a vast, well-hidden wealth and skills that allow him to deal with his enemies as effectively as James Bond.

The upshot of all these skills and all this wealth is that Jake is tired. He's tired of living, tired of running, tired in the manner every human who wakes up in the morning is tired. Duncan's ripping prose manages to keep the plot moving while allowing Jake time for plenty of memorable asides. 'The Last Werewolf' is one of those books that will inspire readers to read aloud and take notes.

Of course all these notes and reading aloud will have to happen after you've finished the book for the first time. The plot of 'The Last Werewolf' is smart, gripping and very engaging. Duncan writes with an admirable economy, and uses his supernatural setup to nicely complicate the problems that will keep Jake Marlowe on the run for the brief duration of the novel. While there is plenty of sex and lots of violence, none of this is gratuitous, excessive or unnecessary. It all goes to make the plot and characters richer, more dangerous and more exciting. And it's served up with the timeless panache of a literary spy novel, both wry and exciting.

An atmosphere of ennui permeates the novel, and informs the vision of Jake Marlowe. As a cohesive agent, ennui might seem to be a dangerous choice, but Duncan uses this to his advantage. For all his prowess and powers, for all the weirdness and wild times, readers are able to identify with Jake because he's simply as bored with his life as the rest of us are with ours. Duncan manages the seemingly impossible task of giving readers a rip-roaring, head-severing, over-the-top plot lived by a character we can understand, even if our head-severing days are long behind us.

Readers who want more than a novel can also find 'The Last Werewolf: A Soundtrack' by The Real Tuesday Weld (Six Degrees Records ; July 12, 2011 ; $11.97), a gorgeous and haunting companion to the novel. Stephen Coates, who leads an eclectic ensemble, has crafted a shifting, subtle musical reflection of the novel. The production is intricate and atmospheric, and the songs, which feature a variety of vocalists and vocal styles, offer both the darkness and the sense of humor found in the novel. In spite of the title, what you're getting is more than a soundtrack or a backdrop. The songs are smart and stand on their own, though readers of the novel will find additional resonances in such titles as "I Always Kill the Things I Love." There are bits of prose from the novel woven in here and there, but the kinship between the novel and the album is complex enough that the album stands on its own as a listening experience. If you enjoy the novel, chances are that you're going to enjoy the album as well.

But for the novel, the proof is in the reading, and reading 'The Last Werewolf' is a total blast. The book oozes cool and fun, and here's the really good part — it does so not in spite of, but especially when Duncan-as-Jake-Marlowe is being particularly pithy. Duncan is happy to slaughter his way to intelligent writing, to wreak bloody havoc in the name of literature. He earns your tears even as he feeds your fears. 'The Last Werewolf' is certainly not the last word in the ever shape-shifting world of werewolf lore. And readers will certainly hope that it's not the last we'll hear from Duncan on the subject. It's a brainy, glorious howl under a full moon, and the spell does not end even when the book does.

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