The Wolves of London by Mark Morris
Alex Locke is a reformed ex-con forced into London’s criminal underworld for one more job. He agrees to steal a priceless artefact – a human heart carved from the blackest obsidian – but when the burglary goes horribly wrong, Alex is plunged into the nightmarish world of the Wolves of London, unearthly assassins who will stop at nothing to reclaim the heart. As he races to unlock the secrets of the mysterious object, Alex must learn to wield its dark power – or be destroyed by it.
I’m incredibly lucky that from time to time, publisher see fit to send me books and I get to read them and waffle a bit about my opinions of their contents. That said, there is little I love more than a good rummage around in a book shop. Last week I was doing that very thing and I suddenly found The Wolves of London by Mark Morris in my hands. I can’t really tell you how it got there, all I can confirm is that as soon as it was in my hands I knew I was going to read it. My cleverly monitored review spreadsheet was immediately ignored and my previous commitments forgotten.
Things start off traditionally enough. When we are first introduced to reformed criminal Alex Locke he is living a quiet life with his youngest daughter. He’s determined to avoid repeating past mistakes and staying on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, his elder daughter ends up in a spot of trouble and the only way to avoid violent retribution is for Alex to do a favour for some dubious types. What should be a simple enough job goes south in a spectacular fashion and Alex finds himself out of his depth and on the run. It’s at this point that the Morris throws the reader a literary curveball. Suddenly, around a hundred or so pages in, this novel morphs from a straight crime drama into something far more sinister and fantastical. There are strange powers walking the streets of London and Locke spends a large chunk of the narrative on the back foot, unsure exactly what is going on. That sense of uncertainty feels almost palpable and keeps the plot from ever getting stale.
I love the idea that the strange and unusual exists side by side with the world we are all familiar with. Alex is just an ordinary man who is forced to confront the extraordinary. How he rises to that challenge and how he copes forms the backbone of the story. Watching his character evolve from an innocent to a sceptic, then his final grim acceptance of his situation, is rather wonderful.
London is often used as a backdrop in urban fantasy, and I’ve heard the criticism that it’s all been done before; that using this city is a bit old hat. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more. London is an iconic location and every author I’ve read always manages to bring their own unique interpretation of the city to their work. Mark Morris certainly manages that in this instance, it feels almost like a character in its own right. The grimy city streets perfectly help to capture the tone of the piece.
A word of warning, The Wolves of London is not for the faint of heart. This is a tale set in the dark underbelly of the city. There are a handful of moments that are particularly unpleasant. There is one scene in particular that really made me wince. Don’t get me wrong, these moments are entirely appropriate, and work within the context of the story, but they are definitely not for the squeamish.
Do you know what? I wasn’t even planning on writing a review of this book. I bought this entirely for my own pleasure, but by the time I got to the last page I knew that I was going to have to share. I’ve been raving about how good it is to my other half ever since. I think, with the exception of a few short stories here and there, this is the first work of Mark Morris’ that I have ever read. I love it when you accidently stumble upon fiction like this. It makes it feel that much more special, a gem that you weren’t ever expecting. It would appear I have been missing out on a rare treat with this particular author. The cover for The Wolves of London proudly boasts the following statement from Clive Barker – “Mark Morris is one of the finest horror writers at work today”. I ask you, who am I to argue with Pinhead’s dad?
If you’ve never read any fiction by Mark Morris then this novel will act as an ideal gateway drug, it’s gonna get you hooked and leave you wanting more. The Wolves of London is published by Titan and available now. The Obsidian Heart trilogy will continue with The Society of Blood and The Wraiths of War, I genuinely can’t wait.