|I own this same edition...|
I have some history with this book. My grandfather, a WWII veteran whose experiences in the Pacific I detailed here on the Silver Key, liked to read--specifically, he favored thrillers, horror, men's adventure, war novels, and other fun potboilers. He kept a few shelves of books in his basement, and a couple more shelves of paperbacks behind his leather easy chair. As a boy of probably 8-10 years of age I remember creeping behind his chair in his living room, reviewing the spines of books he had on his shelf, and selecting The Wolfen purely for its evocative title. The menacing eyes on the cover reflecting a woman in terror assured me I had made a good selection.
I still remember reading it, all those years ago, and being absolutely terrified, beset with nightmares in the days after. The book opens with a highly effective scene of two cops assigned to dump duty, marking up abandoned cars in need of crushing at the Fountain Avenue Automobile Pound. The place is typically no threat, with only a few homeless, rats, and stray dogs to contend with. But on this night the two policemen are surrounded, savaged, and eaten by a pack of werewolves in the most savage manner imaginable. These creatures are so fast that the cops aren't able to clear guns from their holsters.
Streiber's great conceit with The Wolfen is that werewolves have been living among us for thousands of years. Only scant, half-forgotten accounts remain. These are not classic Lon Chaney werewolves--men by day which transform into beasts by the light of the full moon--but an advanced series of semi-intelligent predators, wolf-ish but with fearsome paws that can grip like hands and end in razor claws, rudimentary intelligence, and faces that have something of humanity in them. Living stealthily on the edges of society, these incredibly efficient hunters and killers live off humanity, who exist side-by-side with the packs in blissful ignorance. The Wolfen plays on the theme of the threat of urban decay. Recall that New York in the 1970s was in deep crisis, a time when "wholesale disintegration of the largest city in the most powerful nation on earth seemed entirely possible." The wolfen are symbolic of the rot that accompanies urbanization.
I still have my grandfather's same paperback copy, and I loved it almost as much during this recent Halloween inspired re-read as I did as a kid nearly 40 years ago. I know that Streiber has gone off the deep end and is a bit of a pariah in horror circles, but he wrote The Wolfen (1978) very early in his career, and the book throws off sparks. If you like monsters and mayhem and hard-boiled police investigations and gunplay, you'll like The Wolfen.