The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (2011) 339 p.
This novel got a lot of buzz when it was released back in 2011, when I was working in a bookstore, and I recall filing it away on the TBR pile but have only just got around to reading it now. I timed it as my Halloween read, as part of my general pleasure at living in the northern hemisphere where the seasons actually correspond to the dates I subconsciously think they’re “supposed” to, after growing up on European and American culture. Probably this will wear off, but at the moment I’m trying to theme almost all my reading; I can’t imagine how one could bear to read a book set in summer when there’s rain drizzling down the windowpanes and the sun sets at 4pm.
Anyway, The Last Werewolf isn’t really a horror novel. Glen Duncan is more well-known as a literary author, dipping his toe in the pool of genre fiction (see also – Justin Cronin and The Passage), and The Last Werewolf contains more philosophy than frights. Jake Marlowe is the titular last of the kind, two hundred years old, wealthy and world-weary, spending his days as a human guzzling scotch and having sex with expensive escorts, and his full-moon nights as a werewolf killing and eating people. The Last Werewolf doesn’t romanticise this; Jake is a monster and he knows it, and the only reason he remains a relatively likeable character is because Duncan does such a great job of making him such a witty, civilised narrator. Informed of the death of the second-last werewolf at the hands of the Hunt division of WOCOP (the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), and the personal vendetta the chief of the Hunt has against him, Jake learns that he has less than a month to live – the hunter wants the beast, not the man, and will wait for the full moon. Tired of life after two centuries of killing (a “concentration camp heap” of victims stretching into his past), he decides to accept his fate and return to Snowdonia, where he was first stricken with lycanthropy in the early 19th century. Of course, there are other things afoot, and Jake is soon embroiled in a globetrotting adventure across Wales, London, France, Greece and the United States, giving The Last Werewolf more than a touch of spy thriller to it. Combined with a weird acronym organisation for an antagonist and Jake’s taste for cigarettes, fine scotch and classy hotels, it’s a borderline James Bond vibe.
I greatly enjoyed the first half of The Last Werewolf. Above all else, Duncan is an excellent writer, sending Jake through wonderfully atmospheric places (snowy London streets, a book-filled Earl’s Court mansion, a peaceful Greek island) while he speaks to the reader in his fantastic narrative style: a sort of baroque Gothic rumination, belying his actual time of birth, which has been modernised and accrued yet more wisdom and cynicism as Jake has grown up through the ages, into the world of mobile phones and the internet. It’s eminently readable and a lot of fun.
It does, however, begin to wear a bit in the second half of the novel, not helped by a plot twist which leads the book to some annoying places. Love at first sight might be technically feasible, within the novel’s horror/fantasy parameters, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating. There’s also a lot of sex and violence; I’m no prude, it’s just that too much of anything gets tedious, much like Jake’s initially fascinating monologues once he starts to cover the same ground in them. And the conclusion is a messy game of cat and mouse, full of abductions and double-crossing, which leans far too heavily into Jason Bourne territory. There are two sequels to The Last Werewolf, and while I would have been open to reading them if I thought they’d reflect the character of the first half, the resolution of the plot makes it pretty clear they’d be more like the second, so I’m not sure I will.
That all sounds fairly negative, but actually I liked The Last Werewolf a lot; I just always find it disappointing when a cracking novel goes downhill. It’s still one of the best books I’ve read this year. If you heard about it when it got all that press upon release but never bothered to read it, I recommend giving it a try; it’s not for everyone, but it’s worth your time to check it out.