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.
6 thoughts on “Robert McCammon’s THE WOLF’S HOUR”
Okay, Jonathan, NOW we can talk.
I’m curious to know how you feel about McCammon vs. our old friend Laymon. Whereas I think you’ve read a lot of Laymon, I’ve read a lot of McCammon. (Everything from Gone South back. I haven’t done any of the Matthew Corbett / Speaks the Nightbird series.)
After King, McCammon is the best in the business, as far as I’m concerned. You already know, I think, how I feel about (my admittedly limited exposure to) Laymon. (The Traveling Vampire Show.) So where do you come down on the two?
I THINK, L’s style is bloodier, courser, and blunter than M’s. I think M’s characters are richer, more complex, and far more likable than L’s. Am I perceiving Laymon correctly, compared to McCammon?
I’m surprised to learn you’ve only read a couple of McCammons, because I think the books I’ve read by you (Sorrows & Darkest Lullaby) lean toward being more McCammon-like.
And now here’s the confession: I haven’t read Savage Species, yet. I think I’m actually avoiding it because I suspect it’s going to be more Laymonesque. Am I off on that?
Okay, I’ll stop hassling you. One more thing, when I was double checking my McCammon list against his whole library, I found this on his website:
“The Hunter from the Woods is a collection of short stories and novellas featuring Michael Gallatin, the main character from The Wolf’s Hour.” Apparently, it’s available as an ebook for Kindle or Nook.
I didn’t know about that one. I thought you might be interested.
You’re NEVER hassling me! Thank you so much for your response, Renae. If my kids will cooperate, I’ll try to write you a proper response.
This sounds like I’m being an egomaniac, but it’s easier for me to count the famous horror writers I haven’t read than the ones I have. There are a few I’ve missed over the years (McCammon, Koontz, Masterton, a couple others), but there are a great many more I’ve read the heck out of. Laymon is in my top ten, but he’s by no means at the top of my list (King is, followed by Lansdale, Ketchum, Matheson, Bradbury, and several others). That said, I do love Laymon’s stuff and do see his influence in my work. The funny thing is, even though I hadn’t read McCammon up until last year, a recent review of DUST DEVILS referenced McCammon in connection to my book.
SAVAGE SPECIES does have some intentional Laymon touches, though it’s definitely my stuff through and through. I think you’ll enjoy it a lot, but then again I’m biased.
Comparing Laymon to McCammon is really tough because, as you point out, they’re really, really different. Laymon is fast-paced, bloody, and entertaining. McCammon is rich, textured, epic, and entertaining. But their styles really are quite different.
Getting back to SAVAGE SPECIES, I think you’ll find as much Jack Ketchum in there as you will Richard Laymon, but I’m a Laymon fan and am proud of what Laymon influence exists in there.
Okay, I’m rushing to get this done because my daughters are waiting, but I want to tell you THANK YOU for your recommendation of THE HUNTER FROM THE WOODS! I had no idea Michael appeared in other works. I can’t wait to read more about him! 🙂
I keep holding out hope that I’ll stumble upon an old paperback copy of this amazing-sounding novel, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I suppose I could buy the Kindle version, but these older horror novels practically cry out to be held as dog-eared pulp feasts.
Hey, Gef! You know, even though I read it on my Nook, I think I might have an old paperback copy. *scuttles off to look*
Boys Life is definitely one of his best but if you want to stick with the horror vibe I highly recommend Usher’s Passing and Stinger.
You said it best though he writes masterpieces.
Having read practically all his books now I envy you for having so many great McCammon books in front of you!
I really think I’ll love USHER’S PASSING. McCammon mixing with Poe sounds absolutely delicious. And riveting. Thanks for your thoughts, Brendan! 🙂