Everyone has a secret side to them but does yours have the ability to turn into a ferocious animal that can tear a human apart, like the lead character in ‘The Hunter From The Woods’? I doubt it.
Continuing on from his 1989 book ‘The Wolf’s Hour’, Robert McCammon presents more of Michael Gallatin, the young Russian who can turn into a wolf at will, the most secret weapon in the British Secret Service’s arsenal.
There are three main stories in this collection, plus two shorter tales that explain a little of Michael’s backstory. In ‘The Great White Way’, we see how he escaped from the circus as a young man, earning a young woman’s freedom as well as his own while in ‘The Man From London’, Michael is recruited into the British Secret Service after his sense of right and wrong is challenged. These two stories help us see what has led Michael to this point and how he has been shaped as a man.
The next time we see Michael, he is a grown man and a trusted agent. Although retaining a little of his Russian heritage to keep him in touch with the common man, he’s a sophisticated and learned individual that has risen through the ranks of the service.
The first mission we see him on is detailed in ‘Sea Chase’ where he’s tasked with guaranteeing the safety of a defecting Nazi scientist to Britain. He poses as a low level sailor but is soon forced to blow his cover when a Nazi warship tracks them down. The two ships enter into a game of cat and mouse in heavy fog and radio silence where Michael’s experience is called into play. I’m usually a little sceptical when it comes to naval stories but this has changed my mind. It creates a sense of claustrophobic drama and the sea battle between the two ships is played out beautifully.
The second story, ‘The Wolf And The Eagle’ covers Michael’s time in Africa and his encounter with a German fighter pilot that builds into a mutual respect as they attempt to survive the desert. Each of them has their own agenda besides survival and the balance of power switches from chapter to chapter without getting tiresome.
The final main story, ‘The Room At The Bottom Of The Stairs’ is a bit different to the others. Michael is sent deep undercover in Berlin to distract a femme fatale journalist responsible for killing British allies while Secret Service rescues the surviving members. Unfortunately, Franziska Luxe proves to be his equal in spirit and soul, leaving Michael to question his duties as he falls in love with her. Their doomed love affair is cleverly played out against the last days of the war as Germany attempts to turn the tide of a war they can’t win.
Finally, there is a smaller epilogue with Michael in self-imposed exile and constantly in fear of becoming the hunted. There is a nice twist in this tale that gives hope for the future and perhaps more from McCammon’s hero.
Combining two distinct genres may be difficult but the author balances the two perfectly here. It probably helps that Michael can control his wolf tendencies rather than them manifesting at inopportune moments. In fact, most people seem quite blasé about them and it doesn’t seem to be an issue.
What’s interesting about the three main stories is that McCammon does his best not to rely on Michael’s gift. It would be very easy for him just to turn into a wolf and savage everyone but instead the agent is forced to rely on his latent wiles and instinct to get out of situations, creating more drama, only transforming when really needed.
Some of the language and turn of phrase is a little clichéd but it’s still tremendous fun as McCammon mashes 007 and the Wolfman in a ‘League Of Extraordinary Gentleman’ fashion. There’s an old-fashioned feel to these stories and it’s a different take on the traditional ‘Boy’s Own’ type adventures that make this collection worth a look. There’s not much of the science or mythology of lycanthropes but it’s good fun nonetheless.
(pub: Subterranean Press. 327 page signed limited hardback. Price: $75.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-413-3)
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com