Books Without Mercy
The book review section of Athra. Fearless, insanely biased, and opinionated, and not something that humanity particularly needs. All the same, if you’re looking for short, brutal, to the point reviews and you’re the kind of high school drop-out who enjoys the printed and illustrated word, then you’ve hit the jackpot, tiger.
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
The fact that yours truly was not hired to provide lavish illustrations for this particular work of fiction is absolutely unforgivable.
Be that as it may, The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, is well worth the time and effort. Mr. Duncan’s werewolf, the last werewolf, Jake, is tired, having lived too long, seen too much, and (to be frank) having devoured too many victims,and upon discovering that he is the last of his kind, understandably resigned to allowing those pursuing him to cash in his chips. Needless to say adrenaline and plot twists all conspire to give our hirsute protagonist a reason to live or at least go down clawing and biting.
Jake is of course a James Bond with a penchant for turning into a nine foot, supernatural, and decidedly furry, being every full moon and Duncan delights in sending Jake from one raging fire to another.
Jake is, for the most part, the narrator of his story. A good decision by the author. Duncan gives Jake a lively, wry, witty, and clever voice. One chapter begins, delightfully, “Reader, I ate him.” If you had to invite a flesh-eating monster to your dinner party, you’d choose Jake.
That said, The Last Werewolf is often downright visceral. Jake as werewolf is, make no mistake, a monster. And a grisly one at that. With vampires, the assault is almost always polite and usually downright titillating. All those beautiful victims of Buffy look like there having a great time. Not so with the werewolf. The werewolf rips your throat out, tears off great hunks of muscle, fat, and grizzle, and devours them. The werewolf, dear victim, doesn’t mess around.
To say nothing of werewolf sex which, in Jake’s paws at least, is in an altogether different league.
Give it a shot. Silver of course. Ducan has a great time putting his red in fang and claw hero through his paces and the reader should have a great time coming along to chase down a deserving victim (or an undeserving one for that matter) under the bright light of a full moon.
Latro in the Mist by Gene Wolfe
Every appearance of a Gene Wolfe volume in close proximity to the dreck that crowds the shelves given over to science-fiction and fantasy is a crime against God and man and calls out for justice. Perhaps matters aren’t as bad as all that.
The simple fact is that Wolfe has given us some exceptionally enjoyable and excellent novels.
And Latro in the Mist is a case in point.
Latro is a Roman mercenary injured while fighting in Greece. The Persian king Xerxes launched an attack on Greece in 480 BC. In Wolfe’s novel, the initial invasion has begun and the battle of Thermopylae has been concluded. Latro’s injury has deprived him of his memory. Every morning, he awakens not knowing who he is, where he is from, or even what occurred the previous day. At the end of each day, Latro records the day’s events on a scroll and reads his scroll each morning. Each chapter of the novel is one of Latro’s entries of course.
Through Latro, Wolfe succeeds in painting a world simultaneously familiar and deeply mysterious and foreign. Anyone with any familiarity with Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Pindar, and the like, will understand. In light of the influence of ancient Greece, it’s difficult to come to a novel like this without the feeling that this really isn’t that different from reading Oedipus as an undergraduate. The names, the battles, Sparta, Athens, and all the rest, will all be rather familiar and welcome. And it’s equally difficult not to come away with the feeling that the Greeks were, taken all in all, very different from us. The world in which Latro lives, its customs, habits, practices, beliefs, are all very far removed from our own in many ways.
Wolfe’s imagination is as impressive as ever and the spare uncompromising prose only serves to allow that to come through.
In addition, Latro in the Mist sports a great cover by David Grove, an excellent illustrator. Frankly, the Grove cover, or Wolfe’s prose, alone, make this more than worth the price of admission. It would be hard to recommend this one enough.
Parker: The Hunter by Richard Stark Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter. A good solid read. Kind of a Mad Men for those who read comic books. Which is to say it’s a comic book with a kicky, retro sixties vibe and very consciously stylistic. And highly recommended for that reason and others. A lot of thought went into the graphics of the book and it comes across. The book is genuinely handsome. The art is deceptively minimal, black and white with greyish blue washes. If you take the time to glance back once you’ve read through it, you’ll find any number of very clever panels. The art is genuinely rich and you’re certain to find something new again and again. That’s rare for graphic novels.
Like the art, the story is decidedly minimal. Betrayal sends Parker, a hardened, calculating, and decidedly ruthless criminal out to seek revenge. Parker is a machine fueled by cold fury and the pleasure comes from standing back and watching him efficiently and mercilessly cut through the world.
Interestingly, the story and the book really benefit from the relative simplicity of the world Parker inhabits. Contrasted with the present, the sixties through which Parker carves a bloody trail, seems remarkably stripped of complications. Parker’s world is one in which a criminal could actually venture out and commit crimes without worrying about a slew of technology designed to frustrate wrongdoing. Witness Parker forging a driver’s license with a ballpoint pen, acquiring a checkbook from a bank with a client bearing the fake name Parker has written down, and proceeding to write checks on the account all over town.
Cooke clearly delights in the world he depicts here. There are scenes of Parker viciously cleaning up in a bus station restroom, a villain relaxing in a comical bathrobe thumbs through his record collection, Parker using a screwdriver to break open a door. It’s clear drawing all this is a ball for Cooke. Books in which creators really love the subject matter, really delight in what they’re drawing, are few and far between for any number of reasons. Parker is one of those exceptions that demonstrates just how well a book can work if you turn the creator lose on something he genuinely adores.