Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 28, 2012


The House of the Wolf by Basil Copper (1983)

In his second novel for Arkham Books, Basil Copper takes to the small Hungarian village of Lugos, which is dominated by Castle Homolky.  The castle is also known as the House of the Wolf, referring to an episode in the shrouded past where an ancestor (Ivan the Bold, or the Wolf of the Mountains) of the current Count slaughtered an entire village for falling behind on their rents; at the same spot as the massacre, Ivan and two of his companions were ravaged by a pack of over two dozen wolves.

American professor John Coleridge travels to the castle at the request of the current Count Homolky.   Coleridge is a folklorist whose specialty is lycanthropy and he has just attended a conference in Pest; he and other experts are arriving to give a private symposium on their varied studies at the request of Homolky, who is also a student of esoteric folklore.  Arriving late on a winter's evening to the castle, Coleridge encounters a group of villagers carrying a body:  a local man has been savagely killed by a wolf and he is not the first to die in a similar manner.

Coleridge is greeted by his host who, along with his wife, his mother, and his beautiful daughter, welcome him warmly.  Getting his host to one side, Coleridge tells him of the local death and  Holmolky cautions him not to mention the incident  to anyone in the castle.

The House of the Wolf is told at a leisurely pace as we meet the other members of the symposium, among them Raglan, a young doctor who is obviously as interested in young Nadia Homolky as he is in the symposium, Menlow, a scientist, Abercrombie, the giant Scot doctor who studies vampirism, and Sullivan, who may or may not be an enemy from the past with a vededda against the Homolkys.  In a similar leisurely manner, we are given to understand the size of the castle, with its many floors, hallways, passages, turrets, spires, outbuildings, basements, and sub-basements -- a virtual rabbit's warren that brings to mind Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.  The castle is only partially electrified, leaving much of it in a dark, smoky, Gothic atmosphere.

The following morning, Nadia Homolky confides in Coleridge.  Something was at her bedroom door the night before, scratching, then padding off down the corridor.  Coleridge investigates and finds evidence that a large animal had been there.  He discovers a clump of hair and discretely asks Menlow to analyze the sample.  Menlow reports that the hair is that of a wolf, but that it is growing out of a patch of human skin.

Things begin to happen at a disjointed pace.  A large black wolf, seemingly impervious to bullets, continues to terrorize the village.  Another large wolf with a gray back haunts the castle and come near to killing Coleridge twice.  Medlow is not  so lucky, however; he is torn to pieces and the sample he had analyzed is missing.  The count calls for a hunt to destroy the black wolf.  Coleridge and Abercrombie are uncharacteristically attacked by a large pack of wolves at an area known as The Place of the Skulls, a gypsy is ripped apart by a bear, the castle becomes isolated by a fierce storm, a member of the symposium is found hanged, then his body disappears, another person is wounded by a wolf and still another person is killed in her room.  And one person reads about the events in Copper's previous Arkham House novel in a weeks-old copy of the Times.

As I said, the book is somewhat disjointed and pretty slow in the beginning.  The pace picks up towards the middle and some plot holes can almost be ignored by the reader.  The question throughout the book is simply whether these events are natural, supernatural, or in the control of some villain.   With all the trapping of a Hammer horror flick from the Sixties, The House of the Wolf is great fun for a noncritical reader.  At the very least, Copper gets an "A" for "Atmosphere."

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating choice and review, Jerry. This must be one of the earliest modern-day stories about lycanthropes and the dark world of fantasy they inhabit. I haven't read too many novels of this kind but Poe's influence was evident in the ones I did.