Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review - Wolf's Hour

Wolf’s Hour – Robert McCammon
After the stress and rigours of publishing my first book, I thought the best thing I could do was to sit down and read a book by one of the three men that inspired me to start writing in the first place.
Wolf’s Hour is what I would say is the last of Robert McCammon’s “well known” books that I haven’t read yet. Go on any forum and start a post about the best werewolf novel and one of the first responses you will receive is “Wolf’s Hour.” It will then be endorsed over and over again by subsequent posters.
The blurb:
Michael Gallatin is a British spy with a peculiar talent: the ability to transform himself into a wolf. Although his work in North Africa helped the Allies win the continent in the early days of World War II, he quit the service when a German spy shot his lover in her bed. Now, three years later, the army asks him to end his retirement and parachute into occupied Paris. A mysterious German plan called the Iron Fist threatens the D-Day invasion, and the Nazi in charge is the spy who betrayed Michael’s lover. The werewolf goes to France for king and country, hoping for a chance at bloody vengeance
“Wolf’s Hour” is essentially two stories in one. The first follows the exploits of Michael Gallatin in the present day (in this instance the present day is set during the Second World War). The other story concerns itself with Michael Gallatinov as a child and how he came to be a lycanthrope.
It goes without saying that both stories are great. Mostly they are kept completely separate up until the younger Michael accepts who he is and the path set out for him in life.
The story of Michael’s turn is fascinating. McCammon portrays the abhorrence of transforming into a werewolf vividly. He also quickly dismisses many of the familiar traits we come to accept from the mythology. There is no transformation at the full moon here, the werewolves in this novel are relatively peaceful and can change at will. There is also a very simple reason why they choose to remain predominantly human.
The story of young Michael deals with his life in the pack and his education. Michael’s acceptance into the pack is engrossing. Some wolves welcome him, whilst others are not so accommodating. Underpinning this is the threat from a new wolf that wishes to claim their territory.
The leader of the pack Wiktor is a great character. Wise and proud he sees something special in Michael and pushes him hard. The rest of the pack is all interesting in their own right too.
The other story line concerns Michael’s life as a secret spy for Britain. Michael has matured and is more self-assured. He is what James Bond should be. As with all good characters he is vulnerable, he does not always save the day and often finds himself battered and bruised.
The other good thing is that although Michael uses his supernatural ability to help him accomplish his missions, McCammon does not insult the reader. The character’s Michael interacts with, notice his odd behaviour. They query where he disappears to etc. This is refreshing; often in books the other characters accept feeble explanations of unexpected behaviour.
Speaking of the other characters. McCammon introduces several at various stages of the adventure. It is a testament to his writing prowess that I quickly warmed to them and mourned them when they left the story. Mouse is a prime example as well as Lazaris. Special mention also to Kitty - the vodka swilling behemoth.
The main secondary character is Chesna. She is an undercover spy working with Michael who starts off enigmatic and dangerous. If there is a criticism of the book it is that Chesna loses some of her edge as the story progresses. Around the middle of the book she does become a bit of a damsel in distress, but McCammon quickly rescues the situation by having her return to the confident woman we first meet.
Every good story needs a good villain. You can’t get better than Hitler himself. In fairness, the dictator is largely in the background, but it is his Nazi officers with their hideous secret experiments which propel the novel along. Harry Sandler, Boots and Jerek Blok are all great characters and a cut above your stereotypical villains. Harry Sandler in particular is excellent. His hubris makes for a great adversary for Michael and the scenes with him at the hotel and train are some of the best McCammon has written.
The Second World War setting is captured beautifully. The whole story feels authentic from the clothes described to the Spitfires in the sky. The mystery of the Iron Fist is well thought out and creates a sense of impending doom. Michael’s life as a wolf in the freezing winters is also portrayed well.
The ending is more than satisfying (apart from the fact there had to be an ending). With a climactic battle that even Indiana Jones would be proud of Michael Gallatin is a man I just want to read more of.
Overall then, McCammon has written another great book. His versatility is staggering, bridging the spy/thriller/fantasy genre with ease. I can only hope to emulate a fraction of his talent.
My rating: 9.2