Audiobook Review: Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

14 02 2013

Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

Read by Hillary Huber

AudioGo

Length: 8 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Literary Suspense

Quick Thoughts: Little Wolves is an atmospheric mood rich exploration into true evil. Maltman’s characters manage to both blend into the mood of the tale while still jumping off the page. It’s a fascinating style of storytelling that will appeal to genre fans as much as it does to those who enjoy literary fiction.

Grade: B+

It’s time again to tackle one of my dead horse issues, genre. I honestly don’t get genres. I understand the basics, like Science Fiction, Mysteries, and Fantasy, even though more often than not, these categories overlap each other. Yet, when you get into subgenres, like horror, I just really don’t know. Take an author like Dean Koontz. Most people say he’s a horror author, while others say writes suspense, or thrillers. All are correct. Yet, where exactly is the line between horror, suspense, thriller, paranormal and dark fantasy, and when do we throw the tag Literary on it. I often personally go by feel. For example, what exactly is horror? Is horror simply books that are scary, or do they need monsters, ghosts and ghouls, and other otherworldly things to push them past suspense into horror. I have read novels that are considered spatterpunk and torture porn, where the purpose seems to be to put the characters through gruesome hell. I don’t find these scary and I don’t really enjoy them. I find them, along with movies like SAW disturbing, where the creators are trying more to gross you out then actually scare you. I don’t mind gore, but I never enjoyed gore for gore sake. All too often it seems like Horror is trying to shock you, not really scare you. Then I read a book like Little Wolves where people seem to try to avoid the label horror. There are no real monsters in Little Wolves, or at least no monsters of an otherworldly sort. Yet, there is a mood. A permeating sense of unease that fills the narrative that I found scarier than all the entrail ripping gore infused examples of horror out there today. If someone held a gun to my head and asked me the genre of Little Wolves, I would go with Literary Suspense but honestly, I’m not exactly sure why.

When a shocking murder suicide rattles a small 1980’s Minnesota town, the young wife of a Lutheran minister must confront her past and her role in the community while the father of the of the killer must come to terms with his sons action. Little Wolves blends historical fiction with folk and Norse mythology to create an atmospheric tale of dark motivations, hidden pasts and the very nature of evil. Maltman tackles a lot of themes in Little Wolves. He interposes modern storytelling with a sort of folk mythology. I thought the tale itself was a timely exploration of true evil and the myths society has built to deal with it. In Little Wolves, there are discussions of old gods, lycanthropic myths and even gothic undertones, yet, all the evil is perpetrated by humans. Here, it seems, Maltman is attempting to show us how myths develop from our inability to cope with our own evil, whether it be a killing spree by a teenage, a wife’s infidelity or even simple social stigmatizing. I personally loved the Clara character and enjoyed the parts told from her perspective the most.. There is an inherent inconsistency to her that I found refreshing. She is not the well put together, on the ball character, but neither is she the unstable unreliable narrator. She is a woman uncomfortable in a role as preacher’s wife where she is defined by her husband. As someone who has family serving in ministry, Clara’s character really came real to me. Her struggles and her untapped wisdom made her journeys into the depths of her past even more rewarding. One aspect that didn’t work for me as well as it probably will for others is the use of Nordic mythology and Beowulf instead, what I really enjoyed was the folk tales of wolves and werewolves and their integration with reality. I felt that these moments truly highlighted Maltman’s ability to pull reality out of myths and legends, underscoring the themes of his novels. He allows his story to play out on multiple levels, and left the reader wondering what exactly was real, and what was just in the perspectives of the characters until the final moments of the novel. Little Wolves is an atmospheric mood rich exploration into true evil. Maltman’s characters manage to both blend into the mood of the tale while still jumping off the page. It’s a fascinating style of storytelling that will appeal to genre fans as much as it does to those who enjoy literary fiction.

Have I mentioned how much I love Hillary Huber as a narrator? She is one of my favorite female narrators and I often bemoan the fact that she doesn’t take on more titles within the genres I enjoy. Huber has a rich, mature voice, full of earthy tones that I personally find sexier than most of the narrators they get to read the sexy books. Now, don’t worry, Little Wolves is not about the sexy, it’s about mood, and real characters. Huber deftly captures the tone of this novel. The characters are simple, plain spoken people, full of their own prejudices but for the most part, good salt of the earth people.  There is a scene in Little Wolves where Clara must deal with a group of church women, some skeptical of her, looking for any flaw, while other supportive. I was amazed how real this scene came off, as if I was sitting amidst these women, sipping tea and shaking my head in consternation at some of the things being said. Huber is one of the better female narrators at reading male characters, which is a plus here because much of the story comes from a male perspective. I had no problems transitioning between perspective, using Huber’s simple characterizations as a touchstone to ground me in the tale. Huber reads the climatic moments with an almost airy surrealistic feel that adds tension and suspense to the finale. Again, Huber managed to impress me. Now, we just need to get her to read more tales of the end of the world, or need I suggest, zombies. Little Wolves was a wonderful listen, perfect for these cold moody winter days.

Note: Thanks to AudioGo for Providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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2 responses

14 02 2013
russell1200

Genre seems to be a marketing issue to some degree. What audience already knows the themes, tropes, etc. What audience is being targeted. Some authors almost make up their own genre. There are more audience niches than genre names, there in my mind lies the confusion.

What little I have read of Koontz strikes me more as thriller than horror. His audience seems to be more likely a subset of that crowd anyway.

17 02 2013
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

This sounds totally amazing. I must listen!

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