Whitley Strieber is best known for his 1987 work, Communion. In that book he detailed the strange occurrences surrounding the night of December 26, 1985. Using journal entries as his guide, Strieber described how “visitors” (possibly from another world/dimension) came into his bedroom and abducted him from his family’s remote cabin in upstate New York. Several other non-fiction works would follow Communion as Strieber attempted to further unpack what the heck actually happened to him on that fateful night.
With all of his interesting non-fiction works to explore, it’s easy to forget that Strieber actually began his writing career as a fiction writer specializing in the thriller/horror genre. Recently I got my hands on his first published novel, The Wolfen, and quickly devoured it in a matter of days.
Two detectives, George Wilson and Becky Neff, are tasked with figuring out how two police officers were torn apart by some sort of savage beasts. Thanks to some help from Dr. Carl Ferguson, they learn that the grizzly killings were committed by a previously unknown pack of wolf monsters affectionately dubbed, the Wolfen.
The big shots in the police department don’t believe any of this junk, and sell the press a pack of lies (pun intended) about the killings being committed by dogs or perhaps a serial killer pretending to be a werewolf. Meanwhile, the Wolfen know that George and Becky are onto them, and they wish to hunt the detectives down and kill the humans before the they can expose the existence of the Wolfen to all of mankind.
In order to get some protection from the higher ups, George and Becky decide they need photographic proof of a Wolfen in action. They gain access to a special night vision camera, thanks to Becky’s husband, and take turns watching for Wolfen on the rooftop of the apartment building where Becky lives (a place where Wolfen have been known to stalk). Needless to say, things go south during the mission and bad things happen to the good guys.
Becky Neff: Up and coming, young detective on the force. She’s tough, smart, and doesn’t put up with any crap.
George Wilson: The clichéd (in many ways) “I’m gettin’ too old for this” detective, who was forced to partner with the “lady” (Becky), because no one else could stand to be in his presence. He acts like he hates Becky at times, but he’s secretly in love with her. The Wolfen really freak him out which sucks because he can’t smoke cigarettes anymore.
Dr. Carl Ferguson: He’s the science guy in the story. He desperately wants some scientific proof regarding the existence of the Wolfen. He reluctantly agrees to work with Becky and George as they try to acquire this proof.
Top Brass (Commissioner, Chief of Police, Medical Examiner): These guys pretty much deal in politics and spin. To varying degrees they all think Neff and Wilson are nuts. Oh and one of them becomes a bloody smear in the back seat of a patrol car… guess he believes now.
Dick Neff: Becky’s crooked cop husband. He did some bad things, and their marriage is strained to say the least, but he has a good heart. He gets them the special camera.
The Wolfen: Super fast, super smart, super deadly. These cunning creatures have lived alongside man in secret since the beginning of time. Now choosing to hide in the shadows of major metropolitan areas, they feed on the weak and those who may wish to spread the news of their existence. We get a decent understanding of how packs are structured and how they hunt because several chapters are written from the Wolfen’s point of view.
I went into this read expecting a seedy detective novel with horror elements and that is exactly what I got. It hit all of the notes that a typical pulp would hit. It was dark and gritty, at times sexist, characters tended to be a bit one dimensional, and the plot was fairly simple. I say all of this, mind you, not to tear the book down. There are times where I need a book like this in my life. It’s like a bag of Sweet Chili Doritos. One can’t live on corn chips alone, but every now and then that sweet, glorious body poison really hits the spot.
Oh and I was honestly more creeped out while reading this book than I thought I would be. It takes a lot to unnerve me, but some of the scenes made me leave lights on in rooms of my house that had no business being illuminated at night time. The scene where the detectives walk through a dark abandoned building as the Wolfen hunt them from the shadows comes to mind. Also, wow. The gore. I’m not really a “gore” guy, but when the Wolfen come for you… it’s bloody. They love ripping out throats for some reason. I don’t know, guess that would be a quick way to do the deed. So, thank you?
I will most likely add another Strieber book to my “to read” list. At the very least I may go back and give Communion another read. I remember reading it back in the early 2000s and it was just as disturbing as Strieber’s fiction. In Communion, Strieber never flat out says “aliens came and took me away”. He just uses the word “visitors” and even leaves open the possibility that his mind manufactured the whole experience. I can appreciate that kind of open mindedness and self awareness from a writer.