Review: “The Last Werewolf” by Glen Duncan

As a big fan of werewolves (and the supernatural in general), I was ecstatic to hear about a high-profile, maturely written, more intelligent take on the werewolf myth than ever attempted before. Typically reserved for gory horror villains, vampire lackeys, or cannon fodder for Kate Beckinsale, it was nice to see some serious attention—generally reserved for vampires—given to the werewolves for once. Enter Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, which succeeds in making a werewolf story intelligent, although at times less entertaining.

The Last Werewolf revolves around semi-immortal Jake Marlowe, who—you guessed it—is the last werewolf. With the approaching Full Moon comes his death, as WOCOP (the World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena) focuses all of its remaining attention on him. While Jake has a few tricks up his sleeve (like the aging double agent Harley on his side), Jake is challenged with a different struggle: the will to live. Does he deserve to survive? Is he necessary in the world? Does he have enough drive to push on when so many would rather him dead? It’s this struggle that provides the… meat of Duncan’s novel.

Duncan’s Jake Marlowe is far from apologetic about his life as a werewolf. Besides living for a few centuries, lavishing in riches, sleeping with high-end prostitutes, and dabbling in philanthropy, Jake is a werewolf, plain and simple. He eats people once a month regardless of identity, religion, or creed: anyone can be a victim to his hunger, anyone can be food. Doesn’t mean he likes it, but it’s a means to an end. Survival. The beast inside him—the wulf, as he calls it—craves only two things: constant sex for the wolf’s raging libido, and to eat human flesh once a month during the full moon to sate its appetite. But after two centuries, it’s just as repetitive and monotonous as anything else in life, and Jake’s tired of it.

With relentlessly pursuing WOCOP agents, past loves haunting him (literally and figuratively), and the weariness of age and losing friends, Jake enters a series of events that force him into confronting his past, his present, and his prospects for the future. Where does he find purpose in living? Is it survival? Is it curiosity? Is it revenge? Or is it love?

What is essentially a midlife crisis spins out a wonderfully introspective tale that makes for a good fit in a yarn about an immortal werewolf. Jake Marlowe’s done good things, he’s done bad, and in his words “there is no God,” so what’s the point? Duncan reinforces the impersonal tragedy of life through Marlowe’s incredibly (and brutally) honest thoughts, and ponders it aloud for the audience, the readers of his “journal.”

Conversely, it is these same thoughts that make the narrative stumble occasionally. Jake’s constant ramblings and digressions can be a little tiring, and initially even a little boring. Just about every action made in the book leads into a parade of memories, observations, or backstory that can be as engrossing and rewarding as frustratingly distracting. This made building momentum for the story take a lot of time, and it takes a fair amount of determination to soldier on during the earlier slow parts. But once passing over those initial humps, the narrative really picks up in such a compelling way that my interest rarely waned.

One thing to keep in mind is this story is supposed to be a journal, although it rarely ever feels like a journal until Jake occasionally reminds you that it is. As a journal, it absolves Duncan of the way Jake’s ramblings interrupt the narrative so often: it’s a diary, diaries are one’s thoughts, and Jake is an intelligent immortal with a lot to say. But Jake’s constant metacommentary can sometimes feels like an underhanded way to apologize for Duncan’s occasionally predictable twists. Generally it works. It may even be on purpose, a satire on the genre. But other times, it just seems Duncan is conscious of how typical the plot or dialogue may feel at the moment, and instead of changing it, he makes a little observation via Jake Marlowe, who remarks on the incredible irony of such a typical plot element invading his “real” life.

Illustration by George Bates for the New York Times

Overall, The Last Werewolf is a great journey that should be praised for taking the werewolf story to a new place, to a new level: for pushing the bounds of what is typically a B-movie horror trope and making it have the nuances and charm of an Oscar-worthy biopic. But every so often the pace may fail to keep the reader motivated, especially in the first half, and this is where The Last Werewolf occasionally loses its way. Still, if you like philosophy, if you like werewolves, and if you want just a touch of Anne Rice in your wolf stories, try Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, stick with it, and then tell me what you think.

I give The Last Werewolf:

3.5 Howls

out of


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