Review: Wolfhound Century, By Peter Higgins
A detective on the side of the angels
Saturday 30 March 2013
Peter Higgins sets out what you think will be his stall for this rather wonderful debut novel, and then utterly upends it by the end of the second page.
In the first few hundred words, we are introduced to Investigator Vissarion Lom, a put-upon detective in what appears to be the Russian police, or secret service, who is sitting in a café watching a suspected terrorist or agitator sitting on a bench across the rain-swept street. Higgins is proficient enough at painting the picture, and the appellations – Café Rikhel, Ansky Prospect, Durnovo-Burliuk Street – appear to leave us in no doubt that we are somewhere deep in a utilitarian Soviet city.
Then Higgins throws in this curve-ball: "A line of giants, each leading a four-horse dray team and double wagon loaded high with resin tanks, was lumbering up the hill."
And the surprises keep on coming … but quietly and subtly, like a dreaded knock on the door of an apartment in a brutalist concrete tower block in the dead of night. There has been some kind of war in heaven, we are told, and angels have fallen to earth. The Moon has been sundered. Vissarion Lom has a sliver of angel-stuff in his forehead. And it's only when you are maybe halfway through this compelling tale that you realise Peter Higgins has never once mentioned the word "Russia", nor any other familiar place. And you realise that this might not be the world we know at all.
In short order, Lom is summoned to Mirgorod (that's a real place, on our maps) and set to catch Josef Kantor, a criminal threatening the ordered life in this not-Russia. Wolfhound Century is at turns a Cold War thriller and an outright fantasy novel; Higgins (even the author's name suggests he should be a spy novelist) deftly manipulating the psychogeography of his half-familiar world to keep us in tune with the characters, even as the weird differences that mark out the setting as incontrovertibly alien become more and more marked.
There are hints that Lom's world might not be utterly divorced from our own, though as with the labyrinthine, Kafka-esque bureaucracy that rules his life, answers are not always forthcoming. The story builds to a tense climax that, infuriatingly, ends rather damply, but a follow-up is due from Gollancz next year, in which Higgins will hopefully offer solutions to the many puzzles this excellent debut novel presents.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 2 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 3 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 4 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
- 5 We have six months to save the world, says leading economist
Game of Thrones season 5's 20-minute Battle of Hardhome took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9: 'The Dance of Dragons' sees Jon Snow return to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: 90 viewers complain to Ofcom about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing' dresses
Ed Sheeran debuts new song 'Sweet Mary Jane' about his love affair with weed
Black Angel: Lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers