“They travel by night.”
Hunter from the Woods
This is a follow-up collection of short stories to Robert McCammon’s novel The Wolf’s Hour. That novel was published in 1989 and this collection in 2011, so it’s fair to wonder how and why the character stayed with McCammon so long, especially given the sheer amount of writing her did in between. The character and that novel are incredibly fascinating. Among all I’ve read of his, it’s one of the richest and most fully realized story and novel in a lot of ways. He’s generally an engaging writer, but some of his earlier novels had some gap between ambition and execution, with execution falling short. This one could have easily produced a half-dozen or more novels, which is perhaps what we’re getting in the stories.
The character, Michael Gallatin, is a British spy working before and through WWII for SAS, using his background as a Russian orphan of peasant stock to give him a whole host of different skills and attributes to make for an effective spy. Also he’s a werewolf. Also the novel is dreadfully serious (in a good way). The stories are the same way. The first couple spend some time thinking through more about Michael’s origins and how he would have found himself in England in the first place. There’s a solid horror trope in one of the longer stories: werewolf on a sea voyage, and there’s absolutely harrowing account with Gallatin and a Nazi fighter pilot in a mutually assured destruction story as they are crossing a huge desert in North Africa. A classic, but brilliantly rendered trope.
The collection is probably not meant for or useful for someone as an introduction to the character, and the first novel felt very complete by the end, so this is a nice revisiting, without the feeling of overstaying its welcome. I was actually avoiding this book for awhile because not only did I find the first book very satisfying, it is about twice as long as this one, so I was worried it wouldn’t feel anything near as good. I was happy to find this was a collection of short stories, and that made this book immediately appealing and make a kind of sense.
I Travel by Night
In this novella, which also has a sequel I will read before too long, we find a kind of classic trope with a twist. This is a vampire story, which has its own set of tropes. It’s also a former Civil War soldier now making his way in the world novella, which again has it’s own tropes. Our vampire is Trevor Lawson, a Confederate soldier who while wounded and presumably dying on the Shiloh battlefield is turned into a vampire. Now it’s three decades later and he’s had a host of adventures that exist in the backdrop of this book. He’s approached by a local businessman who tells him that his daughter was kidnapped and is being held for ransom in a town called Nocturne, somewhere out in the Bayou. The fee to release her is 666 gold pieces. He’s told to find Trevor Lawson and offer him the job, and no one else can bring her back.
Trevor tells the man his fee is $2000, which indicates that the fee itself was symbolic and that Trevor is the real quarry here. He’s right of course. The novella takes us on this quest and sets us up for a serial/series for future installments. Some tropes: a silver bullet gun to kill vampires; vampires can live in the sun, but at great cost; metamorphosis plays a large role in seeing them as vampires; very pulpy in general.