Last year Glen Duncan brought fresh blood to the monster market with the moonstruck hero and toothsome prose of his novel “The Last Werewolf.”
Bookish and a bit older than 200, Jake Marlowe enjoyed good scotch and sex and a monthly helping of human sushi. Two centuries of relative solitude were wearing on him, though, while humans and vampires were hunting him as the sole survivor of his kind.
Then he met Talulla Demetriou, an attractive executive who gave off a clear vibe that she too could morph into a hairy 9-foot carnivore. She had been eating people for only a few months when she got into tandem mayhem with Jake. Among other things, she opened the door, seemingly closed by the novel’s title, to a sequel.
In “Talulla Rising,” Duncan again creates an oddly engaging world defined almost exclusively by the abnormal. There are organized vampires and renegade vampires, as well as the crackpot human members of the World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena and its breakaway elements.
Where the first novel had much to do with solitude, the sequel is quite sociable. A pack of real wolves lopes in -- lupus ex machina -- to help Talulla when vampires grab her firstborn. Elsewhere, an incautious nibble leads to a sudden bloom of werewolves, who, along with two WOCOP rebels, help Talulla go after the cubnappers.
The ultimate baddies this time are the Disciples of Remshi, the Ur vampire, whose return from a real long nap requires lycanthropic sacrifice. They are led by “Jacqueline Delon, the gamine billionaire occultist femme fatale who’d stopped at nothing to get what she wanted. What she wanted was immortality.”
That’s Duncan’s idea of how Talulla’s thoughts should sound, an unusual slide into potboiler guff that mars the opening pages then largely, happily, stops. This after all is a man who can thus render his heroine’s ruminations as she contemplates freeing her impaled hand:
“It made me think how time must have crawled for Christ on the cross, a horse’s tail swishing, a centurion easing his leather cap, a boy drawing with a stick in the dust. That was the world: innocent vivid continuity, regardless.”
Duncan plays on a long, relatively thoughtful tradition of the romantic monster, admirable, even heroic, in some ways, at least deserving of sympathy for behavior beyond his control, yet loathsome for committing horrors beyond our ken. It’s far from the camp and cute-gothic varieties that have featured George Hamilton, Michael J. Fox and lately, alas, Abe Lincoln -- closer to Jack Nicholson’s “Wolf.”
A British writer with eight previous novels, Duncan also has fun with his strange material, for instance describing why vampires are depressive: “Centuries of no sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder on a massive scale.” Talulla, while mulling the “necessary lies” she tells her father, shifts into Joan Rivers shtick when considering the alternative: “Your daughter’s a werewolf. Hair, claws, fangs, the whole B-movie deal. Twelve victims. You don’t want to know.”
The story moves from Alaska to London to Italy to Crete, makes good use of the monsters’ special powers, offers cliff-hanging moments and has a fine prison sequence with elements that should delight fans of the “Hostel” movies.
Ah yes, the gore: Duncan spares few details when his monsters are on a tear. As Talulla dispatches one nasty fellow, she “made a slippery fistful of his trachea, esophagus, larynx, pharynx and thyroid veins, squeezed -- and ripped them out” A one-handed castration without the use of anesthesia is almost matched by the stabbing or dislodging of eyeballs here and there.
It’s physically repellent and at times psychologically worse. Duncan can be awfully entertaining while presenting ghastly visions that might force a reader to wonder if turning a page will turn his stomach.
“Talulla Rising” is published by Knopf in the U.S. and Canongate in the U.K. (352 pages, $25.95, 16.99 pounds). To order this book in North America, click here.
(Jeffrey Burke is an editor with Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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