Following the release of the Company of Wolves CFP, Sam aka Lucy Northernra was sent a copy of Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan to be published in March 2015. Knowing that I am masquerading as Werewolf Lady, Sam passed the novel on to me to review. There are spoilers ahead so be warned!
It was one of the more frustrating books that I have ever read. Klavan is clearly an accomplished writer as a glance at his Wikipedia page will tell you. This shows in the quality of research that has gone into the book. He has looked into the history of the werewolf in folklore and the use of wolf imagery by the Nazis during WW2 and brought these together to give a strong backstory to his version of the werewolf. The story follows a detective, Zach Adams, nicknamed Cowboy. He is part of the Extraordinary Crimes unit and has acquired a reputation for being a Good Guy. Whilst investigating a brutal gang-related murder, he uncovers a world of Gothic mystery and werewolves. His work takes him to Germany where he is bitten by a monstrous lycanthrope and, inevitably, becomes the ‘werewolf cop’ of the title. The backdrop of the novel is faintly apocalyptic as Europe is drowned under waves of terrorism, anti-semitism, facism, communism, and most of the other -isms that have dogged the Old World.
The writing is crisp and clear. There is a delicate brevity to Klavan’s style which efficiently creates atmosphere. The novel is an effective blend of crime fiction, Gothic, horror, and film noir. Klavan shows a deft skill at moving between these genres. Perhaps it is my bias, but it appeared to me that the novel contained an aspect of vampires versus werewolves without ever using the word vampires. Instead it described humans bloated with blood and evil in a delightfully tangible manner. The writing only becomes overwrought when the author writes about the unquantifiable evil at the core of the novel. This darkness at the centre of novel has a Lovecraftian feel to it – it cannot be realistically defined. It is at these moments which increase as the novel reaches its denouement, that Klavan becomes a more verbose. The novel would be more unnerving if the Gothic mystery which he invoked during the protagonist’s time in Germany had been maintained.
The first serious issue with the novel is its name and its cover. Both need to be more subtle to suit the understated quality of the writing. Instead the impression you get when picking up the text is of something a little shlocky. Like good noir-esque novels, Werewolf Cop delves below the stylistic restraints of the genre to give a problematized version of the binary presentation of good and evil. The two other issues were with the writing itself. The apocalyptic backdrop stops with Europe and there is a lot of returning to the USA as a bastion of civilisation in comparison to the tainted Old World. So far, so tongue-in-cheek, but I felt that by stopping with the fall of Europe the text was too Western-centric. This could be a reflection of Klavan’s research which places the werewolf firmly in Germanic folklore, but I would have loved to see a slow escalation of dread worldwide. There was a McCarthy-esque feeling to the fall of civilisation in which the reasons were never fully explained. So I say go full pelt – have the USA become the only island of hopeful future in the chaos of Gothic history.
But my main concern is the representation of women. Being of the point of view that the Author is Dead, I rarely say this but there were moments where I felt certain characters were a mouthpiece for the author – and what they were saying was misogynistic. It could be argued that the presentation of women was in line with film noir/ detective novels: there was the angelic little woman at home, the femme fatale, the ball-buster, the mysterious-but-damaged exotic lady. All of which are standard fare but given that the novel took some risks in mixing genres and was intelligent in its presentation of good versus evil, I expected more. What really stuck in the throat was that the femme fatale is presented as a mentally-fragile woman who seduces Cowboy following an ongoing obsession with him. When he turns down her advances she threatens to expose him and pretend that he raped her. His response? He turns into a werewolf and rips her to shreds. When he wakes, he feels remorse but decides that he couldn’t help it and so tries to cover up that he was ever there. By the end of the novel his sins are washed away in an act of self-sacrifice.
If you can see your way to overlook this (and some of the other more annoying representations of women) then I would recommend reading Werewolf Cop. This is not a revolutionary novel and the presentation of lycanthropy is very safe: full moon, silver bullets, etc. But it is an enjoyable read with plenty to amuse and moments of real creepiness.
Interesting review Kaja. I like your wolfish puns i.e. talk of going ‘full pelt’ and being ‘dogged’ in the Old World. Glad I passed the novel on…..will keep a look out for others!!
Glad you liked it. I love a good pun. And as Oscar Wilde suggested good criticism should have artistic pretentions. Though I suspect he put it better than that.