Nicholas Pekearo’s debut novel, The Wolfman, breathes new life into one of the horror genre’s legendary characters, the werewolf, amazingly enough turning the monster into the sympathetic hero of the story. Sadly, it has to be mentioned that Pekearo lost his life while patrolling as an unarmed volunteer policeman in New York before publication of The Wolfman, and that his hopes of turning this book into a series died with him.
Marlowe Higgins, a Viet Nam vet with a tainted military discharge, did not inherit much from his father. But, unfortunately for Higgins, he did not come away completely empty-handed. Instead, upon his father’s passing, Higgins finds himself burdened by a curse that originated with his great-great-grandfather, one that turns him into a killing machine with the appearance of each month’s full moon.
To his credit, Marlowe is a man with a conscience; for a time, he fights the monthly transition from human to werewolf with a determination that causes him tremendous physical and psychological pain. Try as he might to avoid it, though, he is forced to make a kill each month, so he finds a way to ease his feelings of guilt: by killing only those who deserve to die, murderers and criminals who prey on those weaker than themselves, especially those who target women and children.
If Marlowe wants to stay under the radar of law enforcement authorities, he knows that he has to live a drifter’s life, something he does until taking a break from the road and settling into the little town of Evelyn, where he works as a short-order cook. For the first time since returning from Viet Nam, Marlowe lives what passed for a relatively normal existence despite the curse which continues to plague him. But, sooner or later, all good things manage to come to an end. That end comes for Marlowe’s lifestyle when a serial killer, known as the Rose Killer because of his habit of replacing the eyeballs of his victims with roses, comes to Evelyn and decides to stay for a while.
The Wolfman so skillfully walks that fine line between reality and fantasy that Pekearo is able to transform a werewolf not only into a sympathetic character but into a thoroughly believable one. The story is set in the dark little world of Evelyn, a town desperately in need of the protection of a superhero if there ever was one, and one peopled by characters who would be right at home in the shadows and alleyways of the big city.
Pekearo has skillfully combined the elements of several genres in a way that ensures the novel’s appeal to fans of each of them: horror, detective fiction, thriller, and American noire.
The book’s weak point is the relative ease with which most readers will determine the identity of the Rose Killer long before Marlowe manages it, something that diminishes some of the novel’s tension level. But in a novel that is as much fun as The Wolfman, that is an easy thing to forgive.