39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
The only book I ever read that had me waking up in the middle of the night frightened for my life. So well written it makes the story almost believable. After all, science continues to discover incredible animals and animal behavior every day. This book is about a pack of highly intelligent wolves that live in the inner city and prey the weak and homeless; those that will not be missed. They dedicate their lives to keeping their existence a secret by always covering their tracks wherever they go. They know we are a dangerous enemy that would exterminate them if we knew they existed. A pair of detectives investigate the death of two cops who turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed by a foolish young wolfen who hadn't learned not to attack the strong and young yet. The two detectives uncover some of the truth and, naturally, nobody believes them. But the wolfen know that they know and the hunt is on. Every step they take could be their last as they struggle to prove the existence of something that nobody has seen and survived. Brilliantly written and makes you feel unsafe, even in your own bed.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2005
I first read this book way back in 1980 or so, shortly after it's publication. At the time I was 12; since then I've probably read the book a good 10 times! Why? Well, I'm a voracious reader who is often forced to plunder the collection just for something to read (if I can't get to the library or find anything new in the shops), but even so, a book has to be pretty damn good for me to read it more than twice. Oh, and I'm a card-carrying werewolf nut...
Since I read Wolfen, I've also taken in much of Strieber's other works but I have to say in my opinion this stands head & shoulders above the rest of his output. It's also by some way my favourite werewolf tale of all time.
The first thing that distinguishes this book from the rest is the central concept that the werewolves aren't supernatural beings at all, but a species of canine so exquisitely evolved that to those who encounter them the only explanation for their incredible abilities is that they must be men transformed into wolves. This is a bold idea (unfortunately dispensed with in the film version) and one that I've not seen done by anyone else. They have escaped prior detection by feeding only on the dregs of human society and by completely consuming the bodies of their dead so no corpses are left for human discovery.
The second point of note is the sheer quality of the writing. Even now, this book still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up - and I've read it so many times I practically know it by heart! Strieber uses a superbly economical style which instils a feeling of pure dread at several points in the book. His genius is to really make you feel the pressure the protagonists are under as they realise they are totally out of their depth - and hardly anyone else believes what they have uncovered.
A great deal of the pleasure to be had from this book is the attention to detail with regard to both canine physiology and werewolf mythology. The journey of discovery as our heroes slowly piece together the identity of their mysterious and hideous foes is one to relish.
For me, one of the standout passages in the book is where discovery of some remains have drawn Detectives Wilson and Neff to the very lair of the Wolfen. The tension as the werewolves attempt to lure the humans by mimicking the cries of a wounded child is almost unbearable, and the conversation between the two detectives as they relive their close escape afterwards in the (supposed) safety of their car is both moving and deeply frightening. Other high points are the sections told from the werewolves point of view, particularly their description of hunts for pleasure in the autumn forests, which is truly chilling.
Of course the book isn't perfect. The economical style is, in some ways, a mixed blessing. Certain passages are dispensed with almost too quickly, and overall the book could certainly have stood another 50 or even 100 pages. As it is, some of the supporting characters do seem a little `cardboard' although this doesn't really detract from the overall effect. Reading the book today, some elements have dated severely (particularly the reference to a `neighbourhood electronics freak' - a guy with a computer in his living room!) but this is hardly a criticism. My main problem with the premise is that one has to believe that these animals have been able to eradicate every trace of their own existence sufficiently that no evidence has EVER been unearthed in the last 200 years or so. The logical conclusion would have to be that they have been completely self-aware since the beginning of their evolution - but why would they have bothered to hide their existence when the early humans would have been of little threat to them? From a purely physiological view, I also have my doubts about the combination of the werewolves 40mph+ running speed and their 'handlike' prehensile paws which allow them to scale tall buildings and open doors.
All this is nitpicking of course. The main purpose of a horror thriller is how it makes you feel. In this `Wolfen' succeeds brilliantly. Suspend your disbelief and dive in; if it hasn't hooked you in the first 5 pages I'll eat my hat. Enjoy.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2002
A sub-category of the horror genre is that of the man-killing creature that has co-existed with humanity since the dawn of time. Usually, horror writers delve into the supernatural for creatures that Go Bump In the Night. Whitley Streiber, in his novel, THE WOLFEN, tells a compelling yet strangely believable tale of a race of intelligent carnivores that split off from their canine ancestors milennia ago and have feasted on the dregs of human society: the weak, the old, the lost, and the sick. As the novel opens, two police officers are killed and consumed while guarding auto wrecks. As their police brethren investigate, two of them, detectives George Wilson and Becky Neff, realize that the two cops were not killed by a stray pack of wild mutts. Their investigation gradually reveals that the killers knew what they were doing and were equally determined to keep evidence of their existence a secret. The plot boils down to a race between the Wolfen's trying to kill Wilson and Neff before they can reveal the existence of the pack and the detectives' attempts to convince the world that the nightmare has already begun.
What makes the book a solid read is not only the fluid writing of Streiber, but also his vast knowledge of canine habits and intelligence. The best parts of the book are not the hide and seek confrontations between the detectives and the pack but the scholarly discussions of wolfen history, anatomy, and mythology. Early in the novel, Wilson and Neff find a pawprint of a wolfen and take it to a canine biologist for analysis. The biologist studies it for a while and says, "It can't exist. Too perfect a mutation. No defects at all. Plus it's at least three steps ahead of its canine ancestors." The doctor's incredulity fades as he rethinks his objection, so he goes out to find them and is torn apart for his troubles.
Whenever any writer of horror succeeds in convincing his reader that his premise could truly have happened, it is not because of his knowledge of the topic or even his technical skill at balancing a confrontation between the creatures and those who oppose them. The real test of making a monster leap off the page at the reader lies in the writer's ability to give a face and a voice to the creatures. If the creatures are seen only as lethal and bloody killing machines, then the reader cannot empathize with them. Streiber avoids this difficulty by presenting the Wolfen as killing but taking no pleasure in their killing. In fact, he goes to great pains to exhibit a long-lived species as doing merely what they have always done. The Wolfen are described as having an efficient social hierarchy, a supportive inter-family relationship, and a sense of teamwork when confronting human beings. In short, they are seen as roughly four-legged versions of human beings who do what they have to do to survive, but unlike humans, the Wolfen are not given to post-killing rationalization for their bloody deeds. It is this gentle pairing off and comparing of the habits, mores, and attitudes of both competing species that lends the novel its peculiar power. Perhaps the inner lesson of THE WOLFEN is that the killing of any species for survival can be justified on that basis alone, and if humanity claims that right for itself, then it can hardly fault the Wolfen for doing the same.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2006
This is one of my favorite stories of all times. The concept was absolutely brilliant, and like another reviewer mentioned, the movie completely missed the ball on this. Wolfen is the highest evolved member of the dog family just as we are the hightest evolved primate. Feeding exclusively on humans, the Wolfen evolved parallel from us, and increased in mental capacity to match as their prey evolved, similar to the way the cheetah's speed evolved as his prey got faster. As our technology evolved to make us more than a match for any animal, our natural predator evolved his physical abilities to keep up. The Wolfen don't have an actual opposable thumb, but their paw evolved to mimic one (close enough). It can turn a door knob or throw a complicated latch that the cleverest family pet couldn't. They've demonstrated the ability to mimic the sounds of distressed humans or children to lure their prey into lonely areas and they have a complicated/sophisticated language. But most of all they have SPEED. They are fast enough to disappear from your sight as if they vanished into thin air.
With today's new CGI effects this would be the perfct time to redo that stupid movie and scare the heck out of people like they should have. And no ecological speech snorefests.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2002
Two hardened NYC detectives, with a complicated relationship, stumble across a series of brutal murders and mysterious disappearances. Assigned to the case, they find themselves on the trail of predators who have hidden themselves from men so effectively, they are mentioned only in terrifying legends. As the impossible reality dawns on the two detectives, they find themselves targeted by a pack of highly intelligent creatures that will do anything to protect their race. They are The Wolfen. And they consider humans easy prey... This is a classic take on the werewolf legend. I was 12 or 13 when the book came out and I remember it scaring the hell out of me. The novel is well researched and has a gritty modern day reality to it; from the details of police work to theories on animal intelligence and wolf behavior. Strieber's approach is very credible and very scary. I'll admit, I prefer my werewolves as traditional man/wolf hybrids, but this was a fun read and a must for horror fans.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2006
Strieber's WOLFEN is about a race of highly intelligent canines who have evolved alongside Humanity. Living on the fringes of our communities, preying upon our social flotsam and jetsam (the outcasts, the loners, the deviants), the Wolfen are the basis for all of Man's shape-shifting myths and legends. Strieber portrays this species as neither supernatural or essentially evil, but rather as another highly developed species that has learned to compete with and survive amongst a much more numerous and technologically inclined --and thus even deadlier and more destructive-- Humankind. As with most of Strieber's books, WOLFEN is a thriller that's also an intelligent and philosophical read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2007
This book in simply incredible. It is a well crafted roller coaster ride that takes you into the world and mind of the Wolfen, a highly intelligent wolf mutation that lives in and around our civilization and feeds on our outacsts. I couldn't put it down.
There is a movie based loosly on the book, but the story of the wolfen is totally lost in the movie version. The movie is a horror-thriller on it's own, but it loses the point of the book, the intelligence and cunning of the Wolfen.
If you enjoy a good thriller and a fresh idea and view of our civilization, Wolfen would be a top read for you. I know it is for me.
In my opinion, this is Strieber's finest work.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2006
The Wolfen is an exciting, fast-paced novel that gives a unique and intriguing scientific take on the legend of the werewolf. Two of the best detectives in New York, George Wilson and Becky Neff, are stumped for the first time ever when they investigate the horrific, savage killing of two police officers. Strangely, the officers seem to have been killed by animals - and the evidence points to some fearsome animal that science doesn't know about - how can this be? Especially right in the Big City? The novel is a great one for fans of werewolf stories or just plain thrillers.
The creepiness of the story comes in the realization by the two protagonists that the "Wolfen" will not stop hunting them unless they are killed. But more importantly, they realize these creatures may actually be superior to them in their killing ability, and in many other aspects. The Wolfen have senses even beyond that of regular wolves, and they can track Wilson and Neff ANYWHERE they go. And these are creatures that no one believes exist, so the detectives don't have help from many people.
A special note about the film: this novel should not be skipped, whether or not you liked the film. The film version was all right, and it was well acted, but it really was a different type of story. It didn't really focus on the theme of being hunted, like the book does, and the film also got sidetracked by environmental preaching, and eventually it ends up with an entirely different finale.
Whether or not you liked the preaching of the film, none of that is in the novel. In the novel the Wolfen are not acting out of any human encroachment onto their environmental territory (in the film, they seem to be striking out because development projects are giving them nowhere to hide), rather, this particular pack of Wolfen CAME to New York on purpose only a couple years before, just so they could have a great human hunting ground. The novel mainly focuses on what's happening with Wilson and Neff's investigation, but then it goes back to tell what's happening behind the scenes in the Wolfen camp. This sets up a chess game strategy of survival where the two cops and their associates realize they are fighting for their lives while the Wolfen are fighting to keep the secret of their existence from mainstream human knowledge. The humans MUST survive, while the Wolfen MUST kill them to ultimately survive themselves.
Here you have humans versus a pack of creatures that are at the top of the scale, so to say, in the canine family. Just like humans are the top primates. The Wolfen in this book are much more complicated than their movie counterparts, and also much less innocent. As humans have societies that have rights and wrongs, and values, and good and evil, so do the Wolfen. They go pretty much by the jungle law, but as they are higher advanced than any other animal like them, they also have moral choices to make. They do not run just on instinct. They can decide to do things that are right or wrong in a sense. In fact, it's some young Wolfen killing two cops they weren't supposed to have killed that starts the whole story.
The film version starts with a different kind of killing: a rich, elite society couple, and their bodyguard, instead of the two cops in the novel. This gives the police investigation a different angle from the beginning, one that goes into terrorist groups and Native American (pseudo) mythology. It has its interesting moments, and everything is well acted. The movie is shot well, and the wolf killer-camera view is great. But one thing I really liked better in the novel is that the Wilson and Neff were homicide detective partners. They have worked together a while, and they have a love-hate relationship, but they both respect each other. It's very different in the film; for one thing the film completely cuts out the character of Neff's husband, also an officer, and one who works with police dogs. The other main difference with them is that in the novel they are the best in the force, brilliant detectives, so they realize much sooner than in the film that they are dealing with some incredibly fierce animal they don't know anything about. I felt in the film it took them too long to realize that. I liked it in the book how they get spooked out about it so quickly. I mean after all, they're the two best detectives in the city, so when they look at the evidence, they see what's really there; and what's really there mystifies and scares them. Of course, they know the uppers in the police force don't want to hear their killer animal theory, but there's no getting around it.
Regardless of whether you liked or disliked the film, or whether or not you liked or disliked anything else by Whitley Strieber, READ this book, it is great!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2003
I read this book ages ago, when I was in 7th or 8th grade. Normally, 'horror' books don't do much for me... if they're written well or have an interesting concept, they can make decent reads... but this one scared the bejeesus out of me... reading the book, it wasn't particularly scary... but the author's descriptions were just so real the wolfen took on a life of their own, I could see them in situations and know how they'd react... and when they entered my dreams, they were as real as any dream can be... gave me nightmares for months after reading it, and every once in a while since then, I'll have one, usually after seeing some sort of wolf-involved movie...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2011
I've been on a Whitley Strieber reading binge for the past week. Over the previous weekend, I tried to quench my thirst by re-reading The Hunger (1981). When I finished reading, however, I discovered I had ignited a voracious hunger instead. So over lunch during the days that followed, I wolfed down some more Strieber in the form of his first novel, The Wolfen (1978). It had been 20 plus years since I first read the novel. I found it to be different/better that I originally remembered.
Wolfen starts out with the death of two young police officers killed at an automobile impoundment by two inexperienced yearling werewolves from another tribe out on their first hunt. They foolishly attacked virile, strong humans, not just riff-raff, the sick, or the old, but victims who will be sorely missed almost immediately by their families, employers, and friends. And to make matters worse, their victim's mutilated corpses are found and tell the deadly, gruesome story of just how vulnerable humankind really is to an ancient long-forgotten enemy, a super-intelligent species of wolf, members of whom are known by the name of Wolfen.
Two police detectives from the Brooklyn Homicide Division, fifty-four year old George Wilson and thirty-four year old Becky Neff, are assigned to solve the murders, but their own supervision can't believe the medical evidence that wild dogs attacked and killed two fully-functioning policemen, so they minimize the danger by saying that the policemen were unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning at the time of the attack and then they close the case. But three other murdered victims soon turn up in the basement of an abandoned apartment building in the South Bronx, killed in a similar fashion as the first two police officers, and the case is reopened. Meanwhile, too keep their very existence a secret from the world, the Wolfen target and repeatedly try to kill the police detectives investigating the murders.
The Wolfen is very different from The Hunger in that its prose is very simplistic, almost inelegant. When the book is narrated from the Wolfen's point of view, it becomes primitive, animalistic, and mesmerizingly powerful. Long before the end of the book, readers are helplessly hooked on what will happen to the two police detectives. Although I personally liked the lyrical, hauntingly beautiful Hunger better, Wolfen still rocks.