I’ve only read two McCammon books so far (SWAN SONG and THE WOLF’S HOUR), but I’ve come to a conclusion.
Robert McCammon doesn’t write novels. He writes masterpieces.
I expected that of SWAN SONG, since many folks place it up there with (and, in some minds, above) one of my favorite novels, Stephen King’s THE STAND. After reading SWAN SONG, I felt the praise was warranted. It’s a towering classic of our genre.
What I didn’t expect was for THE WOLF’S HOUR to rival the majesty of SWAN SONG.
THE WOLF’S HOUR is a completely different type of novel than SWAN SONG (and I would argue that SWAN SONG is very different from THE STAND), but it’s no less impressive. In fact, I found Michael Gallatin (the protagonist of THE WOLF’S HOUR) more interesting than any character in SWAN SONG (which was crammed with awesome characters, especially Josh, the ex-pro wrestler).
I’ll leave the synopsis of THE WOLF’S HOUR to other reviewers—it’s not like this is a new release anyway—and instead limit my observations to a few brief reactions:
1. The aforementioned Michael Gallatin is one of those larger-than-life characters that nevertheless feels grounded in reality. More importantly, McCammon manages to make Michael vulnerable without making him weak. The result is a crackling species of suspense whenever Michael is in danger, which then transforms into a plausible relief whenever Michael triumphs. We believe he can be killed, but we also believe he can overcome. The difficulty of achieving this balance cannot be understated, but McCammon makes it all seem effortless.
2. The novel contains set pieces that beg for a big screen treatment. One involves the Paris Opera House. Another takes place on a specially-rigged “death train,” which is one of the coolest settings I’ve read in a good while. These set pieces alone vault THE WOLF’S HOUR into high adventure territory, and they begin to speak to my next point…
3. The story is a true epic. It contains horror, action, romance, adventure, humor, heartbreak, eroticism, and historical flavor. Despite the fact that we know how WWII ended, we feel genuine terror when the Nazi plot is revealed and teeth-chattering suspense when Michael attempts to bring down (literally and figuratively) Hitler’s diabolical plan.
From the above comments it might seem I’m bashing SWAN SONG. I’m not. It’s an incredible work of fiction. And if I had to choose between THE WOLF’S HOUR and SWAN SONG, I’d choose the latter as the better of the two books. But THE WOLF’S HOUR certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside SWAN SONG when folks discuss horror’s best novels.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention McCammon’s writing, which is absolutely superb. The man has a poet’s ear and a carpenter’s exactitude, but he also possesses the sheer brawn to create such a robust tale. McCammon is a masterful writer who has already taught me a great deal. He’s also a riveting storyteller who entertains the heck out of me.
And before you say anything, let me answer you: I know I need to read BOY’S LIFE and plan to do so by year’s end. For now, though, I’m going to savor THE WOLF’S HOUR. It was everything a great book should be.