The novel begins in modern day London with Jake Marlow, a two hundred year old werewolf. Jake has discovered he is the last living werewolf, the penultimate wolf having being beheaded by members of the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP). Jake is not only their final target, he is highly prized, having killed the father of WOCOP's leader some forty years ago. But Jake, educated, erudite and highly sexed, is tired of his existence and considers accepting species extinction by allowing WOCOP to find him at the next full moon - that is until he discovers something that gives him a reason to go on with life. With WOCOP hot on his tail (sorry), Jake goes on the run.
The novel is narrated by Jake and his tone of voice is very important. For the first third of the novel Jake speaks to us as the jaded, world-weary being that he is. Luckily he is intelligent and well informed enough that this isn’t tiresome, and before we begin to find it tiresome anyway, Jake’s life takes a dramatic twist and we get to go along for the ride. I did find some of the opening chapters a little overwritten for my taste. Sentences such as “leaving him alone with his conscience was like leaving a child alone with a paedophile” are, in my opinion, a bit silly. However the way it is written is so appropriate for the character, and lines like the aforementioned infrequent enough, that they didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book overall. The final acts are a rollicking read. Duncan leads you through many twists and turns without it getting so complicated you get lost, and it is a pleasure to read a book with twists you don’t see coming that still make sense.
The world of the werewolf is fantastically realised. Jake is neither a man or a beast, but an awkward combination of both. He is a man most of the time, but his life is dominated by a monthly cycle culminating in the murder, and eating, of a human on the night of the full moon. As the moon waxes Jake feels the wolf growing inside him, phantom claws and muzzle itching to get out, joints popping, The Hunger (as he calls it) taking over his body so he stops eating, and his libido ramped up to absurd degrees. As a werewolf, The Hunger is overpowering. One of Duncan’s cleverest touches is Jake not only eats the flesh, he also consumes the life itself; psychically learning who they are, what they have done. His first victim, someone known to him, hovers in Jake; a tortuous reminder of what he has become. The only afterlife his victims get is inside him.
Jake lives as a human, with a human's conscience, yet he is a monster; every month a person dies so that he can continue to live. He carries on, accepting the fact of his monstrosity, because at heart the thing that unites all living creatures is a desire for survival. He is also alone. Werewolves are unable to reproduce, the bite having stopped working not long after Jake was turned. Jake looks at recent history, the holocaust, the atomic bomb, reality TV and wonders if this is because people no longer need monsters. We consume, survive, and others die. We are the monsters.
Although this is a horror book with a little more meat (sorry) than the standard fare, Duncan never allows the big metaphors to derail the narrative. If you are put off by blood or sex (did I mention there is a lot of sex) this may not be the one for you. I, however, enjoyed it very much. The final act had me absolutely hooked. I suspect we may see a sequel; I’ll be reading it.