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Thursday, May 22, 2008

"The Wolfman" by Nicholas Pekearo

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: By the time Nicholas Pekearo was 28 years old, he had already penned three novels and was well on his way to a terrific career as a writer. Then on March 14, 2007, while volunteering as an NYPD Auxiliary Police Officer, he and his partner, Eugene Marshalik, were killed in the line of duty in the very neighborhood Nicholas grew up in—New York City’s Greenwich Village. “The Wolfman” is Nicholas’ first published novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Marlowe Higgins is a werewolf. For years he struggled with his affliction, aimlessly wandering the country, fearing for the lives of innocent people who were murdered by the beast within him every full moon. Then he found a way to use his unfortunate curse for good—by only killing really bad people.

Settling at last in the small town of Evelyn, Higgins manages to find a job and even a friend. But one night everything changes. It turns out Marlowe isn’t the only monster lurking in the area. A fiendish serial killer known as the Rose Killer has been brutally murdering young girls across the country and is now terrorizing Evelyn. Higgins targets the killer as his next victim, but on the night of the full moon, things go drastically wrong…

CLASSIFICATION:The Wolfman” reminded me of
Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels . . . that is, if the protagonist was a werewolf instead of a vampire, and if the story was set in a small southern town in the early 90s rather than 21st century Manhattan. Like those novels, horror and supernatural elements are downplayed in favor of crime noir and mystery/thrills, but where Joe Pitt channeled Quentin Tarantino, “The Wolfman” is flavored more by Thomas Harris, and early Dean Koontz/Stephen King

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 286 pages divided over twenty-six chapters and a prologue / epilogue. Narration is in the first-person via Marlowe Higgins, but is an accounting of events that have already occurred. “The Wolfman” is a standalone novel, but was planned as an ongoing series. May 13, 2008 marks the North American hardcover publication of “The Wolfman” via
Tor Books. Jacket photograph is by Bruce Brown.

ANALYSIS: Vampires versus werewolves? In my mind, there’s no contest. Vampires will always be cooler and more interesting than werewolves. Partly it’s because of the vampire mythos, but it also has a lot to do with the kinds of stories that I was exposed to. Dracula, I Am Legend, Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Vampire Hunter D, the Blade movies, the Legacy of Kain videogames . . . these are all great interpretations of the vampire legend. On the other hand, what I remember most about werewolves are movies like Teen Wolf, The Howling, An American Werewolf in Paris, Wolf and Cursed—not exactly storytelling at its finest—and aside from Toby Barlow’sSharp Teeth” and the Anita Blake books, I can’t think of any decent werewolf literature that I’ve read. Of course, if there were more books out there like Nicholas Pekearo’sThe Wolfman”, maybe I would have a much higher opinion of werewolves :)

Basically Marlowe Higgins, the protagonist of the book, is cursed: every full moon he changes into a seven-foot-tall werewolf and murders someone, which obviously affects his personal life. So for over twenty years, Marlowe has been drifting from one small town to another, barely scraping by, living under false names, and alternately trying to find someone who can cure his condition or coming up with enough courage to commit suicide. In “The Wolfman” it’s the year 1993, Higgins is forty years-old, and he’s settled down in a town called Evelyn, complete with a job, a friend, and a hooker that he’s in love with. He’s also developed an understanding with the beast residing in him so that only bad people are killed. It’s a system that’s been working, but when a serial killer who mysteriously has no scent comes into town, all hell breaks loose…

The first thing that really stands out in “The Wolfman” is the character of Marlowe Higgins. What makes Marlowe such a great character is his colorful tough-guy attitude, which really comes alive through a spirited narrative style, rough language, and spot-on slang & pop culture references that convincingly evoke the 80s and 90s. Even better, Marlowe is a character with depth as he frequently interjects the main narrative with flashbacks about his curse, what he lost because of his curse, his time in ‘Nam, and numerous other remembrances that flesh out his history.

Secondly, I loved the old-school ambiance of the book, which really made me nostalgic for the early 90s when I used to devour anything by Dean Koontz, Brian Lumley and Robert R. McCammon. “The Wolfman” just possesses that same kind of vibe. But instead of being a straightforward horror novel or supernatural thriller, “The Wolfman” is more of a hard-boiled crime noir with police procedural, a serial killer mystery, and dark humor all mixed in.

Lastly, I really liked Nicholas’ take on werewolves which is a combination of classic mythology—curse is handed down from one generation to the next, can only transform on the full moon, is almost impossible to kill, et cetera—and fresh ideas. For instance, when the beast kills a person, it doesn’t just take their lives, it takes their spirits. As a result, Marlowe can experience the memories of everyone the beast has ever murdered, and even absorbs some of their traits like certain eating habits or knowing different languages such as French, Greek, Mandarin and Spanish. Another interesting twist is that the werewolf is a separate entity, so Marlowe has no recollection of what happens on a full moon . . . unless the beast decides to share its memories ;)

That all said, “The Wolfman” is not a perfect novel. The pacing sometimes drags because of the frequent flashbacks and Nicholas’ tendency to over-describe things, there are a couple of inconsistencies in the police investigation, and for a crime noir “The Wolfman” amazingly fails to deliver any kind of shocking twist—the identity of the Rose Killer, why the beast can’t scent the serial killer, who the person is behind the threatening phone calls to Marlowe; these subplots are telegraphed so blatantly that it’s impossible not to know the answers long before the author finally reveals them. In spite of these imperfections though, “The Wolfman” is a striking debut, one that I immensely enjoyed, and if Nicholas was still with us, I’m quite positive that every one of his novels would have made it into my book collection :)

CONCLUSION: According to the Editor’s Note, Nicholas Pekearo envisioned “The Wolfman” as the start of a series with Marlowe Higgins encountering all sorts of nasty trouble in the future with ‘neo-Nazi vampires, demented wizards and alchemists.’ Sadly, we’ll never know how those adventures might have turned out, but if “The Wolfman” is any indication, the books would have been visceral, hard-hitting, and entertaining as hell. Regardless, at least readers will always have “The Wolfman”, which apart from a few flaws, is a tremendously satisfying novel, and an unforgettable tribute to what might have been…


SQT said...

I've been interested in this ever since I saw the description. Then I read how Pekearo died. That's just awful. At least his name can live on in his book.

gav (nextread) said...

Part of me is interested in this one but the other part is saying that there surely must be more fantasy creature out there than f**** vampires and werewolves!

Calibandar said...

interesting book, I'll be picking it up.

Robert, I like the new format for your reviews with the different sections for analysis, classification and format, works really well and to the point.

gav (nextread) said...

God I was a little grumpy when I wrote that comment.

It's always a shame when someone is stopped too early from exploring their full potential.

And I guess there are always more vampire and werewolf tales to tell

Robert said...

Gav, well it's okay to be a little grumpy ;) As far as vampire/werewolf tales, as long as they try and bring something new to the table, and are well-written, I'm not complaining. But it would be cool to some other kind of mythical creature get its due :D

Calibander, I hope you enjoy the book! And thanks for the comment about the new format :) I think it's working out pretty well so far...

Anonymous said...

I have literally just finished reading this book. I've always been a fan of supernatural/fantasy/scifi's so it was going to be an interesting read for me regardless.

While I can understand why some of the comments were made in the posted review of it, I throughly enjoyed this book. It's going to be a long wait to see whether any of his other novels will be published sooner rather than later.

Marlowe was a nicely put together character and the manner of Pekearo's writing really appealed to me.

I look forward to hunting for the next installment.

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