BlackRabbit’s #CBR5 Review #14: The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon

I’d honestly never heard of Robert McCammon (which says more about me than him) until I picked up a copy of The Wolf’s Hour at a small bookstore while on vacation a few years back. I was attracted to it immediately, because werewolves are my favorite of the movie monsters in general. Suffice it to say I’ll watch or read almost anything with werewolves in it at least once (except Twilight). Quick movie recommendation: Dog Soldiers.. Great acting (Sean Pertwee is excellent), great monsters.

Anyway, the book has two fairly simple ideas at its heart: 1) the secret agent, sneaking into Nazi Germany to discover a new weapon and 2) a man battling with his own inner beast. And yet, it works very well. McCammon manages to keep the adventure moving, painting vivid pictures and exciting adventures.

His characters are not the deepest in my opinion-the werewolf, named Michael Gallatin, doesn’t honestly go through much development; he’s an an action hero, there to stop the baddies with his fists and fur and provide sweet loving to the war-weary beautiful ladies who cross his path, of which there are no less than three in the book, each with their own detailed sex scene after a pretty lackluster seduction. Heck, there isn’t even much to the guy except that he’s a werewolf. He’s mysterious even to the reader, and we don’t seem to get much of a peek inside his head, wolf or man. Of course, going up against hardcore evil like Nazis doesn’t really leave a lot of room for moral ambiguity and pondering about the rightness of his actions. The ladies themselves do each get a bit of personality and aren’t interchangeable apart from their interest in waking up next to a guy who probably smells like a wet dog after a shower.

He’s also joined partway on this quest by Mouse, an ex-Army cook who provides the “average guy” viewpoint and someone for Mikhail/Michael to look after and swear to avenge when he inevitably gets killed and then isn’t mentioned again. The baddies are the stereotypical Nazis, with overblown cruelty, weird henchmen and amazing plots, almost themselves right out of a Bond film. Indeed, I could easily see Daniel Craig in the main role if Michael’s black hair and green eyes were not mentioned so often, in both his man and fuzzy shapes. It does add an interesting twist to the werewolf idea when it’s mentioned that Michael ages faster while changed (“wolf years”), so that he shouldn’t do it too often or for too long.

Michael’s Russian backstory is well-drawn and vivid. McCammon has a real gift for painting a scene you can visualize easily. His description of the life of Mikhail’s pack is clean and charming, while never losing the sense of underlying strangeness that they have as werewolves, and the impending doom you can see just over the horizon in Michael’s wistful memories. However, Michael himself usually just reacts to incidents, and his personality and sense of self isn’t described before his change, so we don’t get to see too much of what he was like pre-wolf. His adolescence in these surroundings is also glossed over, as is what would be for me the most interesting part-his readjustment to society and how he comes to the attention of the British Secret Service.

But again, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a philosophy book or a coming-of-age story or an origin story, it’s James “Wolfman” Bond ripping the throats out of Gestapo agents with his teeth. I’d call it an ideal beach-book for guys, if that’s not too sexist-sounding, and I’m amazed no one picked it up for a popcorn flick at some point. And it did very much make me want to go for a run in the forest and howl at the moon.

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Solitary

So, I’m thinking of taking a big step-writing a short story (with the above as title) that will hopefully, with love and attention, become a long story. It’s going to be a crime/horror yarn with an idea that’s been humming in my brain for a while: what if there was a killer with no victims? He’s seen in their area, he has a shaky alibi, the people vanish with evidence of foul play-but there’s never a body. It grew out of an observation I made one day while out to lunch (and I was eating, too). I saw an old doorway, one of those entrances to a downstairs apartment or storage room. The door was dusty and old-no idea when it had been used. And I imagined a group of cops breaking it down and finding a body that had clearly been only recently killed. They could be anywhere, hidden behind a door you pass everyday…..

It’s an interesting idea, I think, but it needs some work, and I’ve never really written a “villain” character, as much as I like to read them. It will be an interesting challenge. I’ll add updates as I get bits done. First up: characters. The problem, and one I’m actually oddly looking forward to beating, is now not to make anyone too evil or too heroic. I’ve not had the right life experiences to capture either mindset, and so building them will be something worth doing, even if I fail at it.

And then of course there’s that old creative boogeyman: how to make it unique, different, stand out from the crowd? At the same time, you don’t want that “hook” to be too obvious or silly: “He’s a cop, but he’s a black gay leper in an iron lung!” A book’s plot should likewise be simple to sum up, but not always easy to categorize; the movie trick of framing a story as “X meets Y” whether that’s Godzilla and Harry Potter or boy and girl works fine for a visual medium, but the human imagination is thousands of times more complex than any movie, and so it needs more grist for the mill.

I’ll add updates as I get bits done.