(2018) M. D. Lachlan, Gollancz, £20, hrdbk, 465pp, ISBN 978-0-575-12968-9
A wolf’s head stares out at the reader from above a burning London. There are barrage balloons, search lights, explosions. This is a city at war, a city under siege, from above, As the world burns with war the wolf stirs from his long sleep. The world is at war again. London is suffering from the German Blitz. For one immortal werewolf, the war means little. He knows he will soon have to give up his identity once more, begin a new life. Before the wolf emerges. But a chance conversation leads him to the scene of a gruesome murder, and the realisation that another war is being fought. The runes want to be together, and when they are the wolf's story will end. And in Germany, one weak-willed doctor finds himself caught up in the Third Reich's fascination with the occult and the Norse myths. They believe that the runes will bring them power, and wish to abuse them for their own ends. And if they succeed, Ragnarok will come. Norse myths, werewolves and the second world war collide in the final volume of the bestselling series which began with Wolfsangel.
Taking some of the above – werewolves, the Nazis, unexplained murders, Norse myths, occult experiments - we could well be in pulp fiction territory, but The Night Lies Bleeding is more than that, it is better written for a start and does not have a straightforward narrative flow, particularly as the novel develops. Those new to the series who have not read any of the previous four books, might think of The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, or Robert McCammon’s epic novel The Wolf’s Hour given its werewolf hero and his stand against Nazism.
The wolf is rising in Endamon Craw, but not in a full-on, full Moon sort of way. He doesn’t collapse and go all furry the way werewolves in the movies seem to do. The change comes on him slowly, giving him glimpses of his past lives, and his great past love. While he can keep the change at bay, it will take him over eventually, so it is time to move on. The war means nothing to him. He is different, more than human, better than humans, he thinks. There is nothing to keep him here, but he has left his escape too late and is enlisted to help the police solve a series of baffling, gruesome, unexplained murders that clearly follow a ritualistic pattern.
Meanwhile, in a remote German castle, Dr. Max Voller and his wife have become embroiled with the SS all because of a psychic theory Max has been proposing which those high up in the Nazi hierarchy think might lead to the development of occult and psychic weapons. He’s tried to stay away from the war, but slowly he is drawn into a depraved world were people only exist as subjects to be experimented on; and behind, and above this all, is the Nazi fascination with the Norse myths, and the wolf, Fenrir, and the role it plays in Ragnarok, the end of the world. Is Craw, a mere werewolf? If such a thing can be said, or does something larger, more primal, exist through him waiting to be released? And if so, there are others who have lived and died and lived again, who will do what they can to stop him.
While, being told in two distinct strands, gradually the lives of the wolf and the scientist will come together in a story that becomes fragmentary, almost dream-like, by flitting between viewpoints and space and time in over 51 chapters, in an epic tale that started with Wolfsangel, then followed by Fenrir, Lord of Slaughter and book four Valkyrie’s Song. Strangely enough, new readers could almost read this book afresh with no knowledge of the other books in the series, but that would be their loss in building up to a fitting end to the series.
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