Robert McCammon: The Hunter From The Woods

The Wolf’s Hour was perhaps the most enjoyable book in Robert McCammon’s mid-80s run of success. The story of a Nazi-fighting werewolf named Michael Gallatin, it mixed Cussler-esque derring-do with McCammon’s signature brand of category horror. Then McCammon took a sharp left into Southern Gothic with Gone South and Boy’s Life, retired from fiction for a bit, and resurfaced with a series of historical detective novels. Finally, however, he’s gotten back in the saddle with Gallatin, unleashing a collection of three novellas and a few short stories to fill in some of the mysteries surrounding his dapper werewolf.

The first two pieces in The Hunter From the Woods are short stories about Gallatin’s early years, detailing the time between his transformation into a werewolf and his recruitment by a British clandestine organization. “The Great White Way” is a family tragedy set in a traveling circus, while “The Man From London” introduces Gallatin to his long-time handler, Valentine, who piques his interest enough to lure him out of the Russian forests. It also offers a glimpse of what Gallatin is capable of in wolf form, as he does terrible things to a trio of Russian armored cars.

With the third entry, “Sea Chase”, things shift into high gear amidst the carnage of World War 2. In short order Gallatin escorts a fleeing German weapons designer to England in the teeth of a German blockade, teams with a downed German flyer to survive the perils of the North African desert, and goes undercover in Berlin during the last days of the war to bring down a beautiful but deadly Gestapo informant. As the stories progress, the moral landscape Gallatin moves in becomes progressively blurrier. The Nazi captain of the Javelin in “Sea Chase” is a monster, pure and simple, but the boastful ace of “The Wolf and the Eagle” is no Nazi, and mixes moments of humanity in with his braggadocio over his fifty kills. And then there’s the lovely Fraulein Luxe of “The Room At the Bottom Of The Stairs”, whom Gallatin falls for even as she’s feeding the names of anti-Nazi German partisans to her florid-faced handler in the Gestapo. It takes a brutal rebuke from a battered priest to give Gallatin some perspective broader than his own in the end, and even then it takes an act of Gestapo brutality to bring forth the wolf from the cloak of self-loathing Gallatin’s wrapped himself in.

The last story, “Death of a Hunter”, is another short. Concerning itself with an aged Gallatin’s last hunt, it really serves as a springboard for innumerable other stories. A double fistful of references to adventures Gallatin’s had off-camera in an overtly James Bondish way match up with a bridge to future werewolfy adventures. The torch is, if not passed, then at least shared, and a new adversary is set up should McCammon feel like delving further into lycanthrope territory.

As for the writing, the action scenes are fluid and exciting. Gallatin’s an over-the-top hero, and McCammon knows how to make him seem powerful but not cartoonish. On the other hand, the sex scenes are less successful, and the less said about a few of the phrasings, the better. But, if you like two-fisted adventure and want to see a heroic werewolf fight Nazis and ninjas, then The Hunter In The Woodsis the collection for you.

(Subterranean, 2012)

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