I haven’t been reading much fiction as of late, thanks to work and a desire to catch up on a lot of science reading. This past week, however, I jumped back into the fiction, picking up Basil Copper‘s 1983 novel The House of the Wolf.
It is not difficult to deduce from the title that The House of the Wolf is about werewolves! In fact, that realization made me reluctant to pick up the book, which has been sitting on my shelf for at least six months, simply because I (personally) find werewolf stories a little tedious. (One notable exception: Valancourt’s collection of very early werewolf stories that I’ve blogged about before.)
As I should have known, however, from my previous experiences with Copper’s writing, The House of the Wolf is quite fun! A Gothic novel similar to his earlier Necropolis (1980) and his later The Black Death (1991), it is a mixture of horror and mystery that is slow to start but quite stunning by the end.
Set in the Victorian era near the end of the 1800s, the tale begins as Professor John Coleridge arrives in the remote Hungarian village of Lugos. He, and a select group of folklorists, have come at the invitation of Count Homolsky, the lord and owner of Castle Homolsky, also known locally as “The House of the Wolf.”
The castle’s name turns out to be immediately apt; as Coleridge arrives, he witnesses the funeral procession of a villager, the latest victim of a black wolf that has been terrorizing the countryside. Though tragic, the event seems unconnected to the impending folklore meeting, and Coleridge busies himself with meeting his colleagues, as well as the Count’s mother, wife, and lovely daughter Nadia.
Things change quickly, however, when Nadia takes Coleridge into her confidence. Her sleep has been disturbed by the sound of an animal outside her door and — impossibly — the rattling of her doorknob, as if that animal were trying to gain entrance. Coleridge promises to investigate, and soon the investigation becomes a matter of life and death, as people both inside and outside the castle are found savaged by an unknown creature. As the folklore meeting progresses, the participants and residents of the castle find themselves in deadly danger, as well as trapped by blizzard conditions outside.
The survivors soon suspect that the killer is among them, and also that this killer is something more and less than human. Will they be able to uncover the murderer before he or she strikes again?
The House of the Wolf is one of those books I read at a leisurely pace, matching the pace of the novel itself. Copper fills his Gothic tales with lots of detail, and I found that one or two chapters a night was the best rate to digest the prose. It seems a little too detailed at first, however, and I found the book slow-going until about the halfway point, when the danger becomes very apparent and the supernatural implications unavoidable.
The best part about The House of the Wolf, however, is its ending. Though it is a supernatural novel, it is also a mystery, and the resolution of that mystery was genuinely surprising and unexpected to me. It made the slog through the earlier sections of the book worthwhile!
In comparison to his other Gothic stories, I would rank The House of the Wolf above Necropolis but below The Black Death. Amusingly, there is a shout-out to Necropolis about midway through ‘Wolf, demonstrating that the stories take place in the same continuity!
In short, The House of the Wolf is an enjoyable supernatural tale with a quite good atmosphere. It doesn’t really break any new ground where werewolf stories are concerned, but it manages to fold the werewolf legend into a murder mystery in a satisfying way.
Sadly, the novel has been out of print since its 1983 release. Hopefully it (and the wonderful cover and interior illustrations) will be made available again sometime in the future.