It doesn’t take more than a few pages for Reuben to fall for both Marchent and the Nideck estate. Rice’s descriptions of the mansion are so lush that readers might do the same — to cop a line from musical theater, this is a book that will leave readers humming the architecture.
And because Marchent is one of those gorgeous, mysterious women usually portrayed on film by Charlotte Rampling, it will come as no shock to learn that, after a house tour that includes a magnificent library heavy on antiquarian ghost stories and esoterica (“Ancient manuscripts? Here? They could be priceless.”), she takes Reuben to her Elizabethan bed.
Post-tryst, Reuben drifts off to sleep, only to be awakened by Marchent’s screams. Rushing downstairs, he finds Marchent dead and himself under attack by two assailants who are abruptly dispatched by a ferocious dog that appears out of nowhere, sinks its fangs into Reuben’s face and disappears. When Reuben comes around in the emergency room, it’s to hear the attending physician — in one of the novel’s many contrivances, she’s his mother — expressing consternation over the investigator’s DNA analysis: “One minute it’s the saliva of a dog, the next it’s the saliva of a wolf, and now they’re telling me maybe the bites were made by a human. . . . Now it was no human being that made these bites on Reuben’s head and neck. And it was no mountain lion, either. The idea is patently absurd!”
Uh-oh. Anyone see what happened to those ancient manuscripts?
Reuben rebounds miraculously, aided by the news that Marchent made a last-minute change to her will and left the estate to him. There are some peculiar side effects to his recovery, though, such as acutely enhanced senses of hearing and smell: “It was as if each fragrance had a personality, a distinct color in his mind. He felt like he was reading a code.” Blood tests indicate a rapid surge of growth hormone. And his hair — let’s just say Fabio should watch his back.
Are you sure you don’t know what happened to those manuscripts? What about the ancient clay tablets?
All of this starts out as good, pulpy fun, with Rice’s violet-tinged prose making for a delectable cocktail of old-fashioned lost-race adventure, shape-shifting and suspense, brightened by enticing hints of a secret history dating back to ancient Sumeria. Unfortunately, Rice dilutes the mix by introducing an insipid romantic interest for Reuben, who’s really a noble collie beneath all that lupine hair. He uses his newfound powers only for good, saving innocents in peril and slaying evildoers, thereby making the front page of tabloids everywhere as the mysterious Man Wolf — a story that Reuben covers by day, naturally, in his journalist guise.