But there’s hope yet for those craving that full-throated howl, in the hands of novelists in touch, presumably, with their own lupine natures. Glen Duncan’s blackly witty work "The Last Werewolf" rendered the sympathetic soul of a sophisticated wolf-man who didn’t apologize for his murderous appetites, and Brian McGreevey married a murder mystery with snarly horror in "Hemlock Grove" (recently adapted as a series for Netflix.) Now comes Benjamin Percy with Red Moon, an audaciously complex and often hauntingly composed thriller that puts the classic myth of the werewolf curse at the center of a story taking in contemporary anxieties about infectious disease, terrorism, American military adventures abroad, and the arrival of the paranoid security state.
To support such a project, Percy has erected a carefully architected backstory, of the sort that fantasy readers recognize as “worldbuilding.” Even though the book is set in a recognizably 21st-century America, complete with smartphones and Starbucks, the shape of its alternate history is revealed, in piecemeal fashion, through the course of the novel. Magic is not the issue: in "Red Moon," the phenomenon of humans becoming "lycans" has a biological root similar to that of mad cow disease. Those infected – whether by bite, sex, or inheritance from a parent – will under stress transform into something covered in "downy gray hair," hunchbacked, and equipped with nasty claws and a toothy snout "a skeleton’s fist of a smile."