The Last Werewolf, By Glen Duncan

This old dog has some very neat tricks
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If the Devil always gets the best lines, someone forgot to tell Glen Duncan. Though it was a fun exercise, the novelist was so flippant in 2002's I, Lucifer that it seemed too tame for a diary of the Apostate Supreme. In The Last Werewolf, however, the writer's subject is so down and dirty that his irreverent voice is entirely appropriate.

Jacob Marlowe is the bicentenarian hellion of the title, who's grown tired of transforming into a monster every month. ("One's own death sentence elicits a mad little hallelujah, and mine's egregiously overdue.") If the name of the monster is an allusion to Christopher Marlowe and his most famous play, Doctor Faustus, Duncan is playful with the source: the nihilistic Jacob is, indeed, cursed, but rather than demons tearing him limb from limb, it's he who routinely disembowels innocents.

This playfulness runs throughout the novel, from recession-related wisecracks ("Two nights ago I'd eaten a 43-year-old hedge fund specialist. I've been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants") to the teasing of genre conventions: "You're the last of a great species," Marlowe is told as he is advised not just to curl up and die. "You owe the narrative something better."

The man speaking here is Grainer, the leader of a group dedicated to killing off Marlowe's kind, and whose pursuit of him drives the drama. The threat of extinction is present from the off, but the novel is split in two: one part wonderfully existential; the other, particularly following a revelation that inverts Marlowe's suicidal tendencies, rather more action-packed. It is entirely to the reader's taste which is the better, but I was taken with the philosophical side, loaded with beautifully constructed lunatic ravings such as this reflection on the redundancy of the notion of the beast: "I keep telling myself I'm just an outmoded idea. But you know, you find yourself ripping a child open and swallowing its heart, it's tough not to be overwhelmed by ... the concrete reality of yourself."

Though its apocalyptic tone is dampened by such ruminations, what sets The Last Werewolf apart from the limits of I, Lucifer is its filthy return, again and again, to the coarse reality of being part dog. Like Marlowe's victims, we aren't spared the gruesome obscenity of a lupine attack; nor, like his lovers, the heat of his depravities.

It is a horror that never shies from the human side of lycanthropy; it is a disquisition on the nature of werewolf stories; it is a sublime study in literary elegance. It is bloody (and) brilliant.