Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-18199-5
Fantasy Romance, 2001
Susan Krinard’s conclusion of her historical werewolf trilogy (first book is Touch of the Wolf, followed by Once a Wolf) is also the best in my opinion. The hero Quentin is so tortured, conflicted, yet noble he may as well come wrapped up in a parcel labelled “For Tortured Hero Groupies: Multiple Orgasms Guaranteed”. It’s just too bad that while the plot starts out great, the entire story eventually degenerates into a soap opera right out of the Disney cartoon version of Beauty and the Beast. And the overly-emotional and not-at-all-doctorly heroine Joanna “Gott In Himmel!” Schell doesn’t make the story any more fun.
Joanna, who loves to sprout “Gott In Himmel” like a personal mantra, runs the Haven with her father. The Haven is like an asylum crossed with a summer camp, and it is filled with the usual loonybin clichés: the selfish and delusional middle-aged biddy, the sin-obsessed nutty man of cloth, the traumatized and abused child, the noble and suffering misunderstood psychic, the noble but mentally-incapacitated man, and of course, Quentin, our tortured, schizophrenic hero with repressed violent tendencies. Not that Joanna will find him dangerous, because her womanly and unanalytical heart so trusts him. Whatever, Ms Gott In Himmel.
Anyway, she finds Quentin after he helps her rescue a boy from the boy’s drunk and abusive father. Later, Quentin shows up at the Haven and agrees to let her try to help him. He’s drunk and he obviously has issues, and Joanna, a neurobiologist who studies mental illnesses of all kinds, finds herself attracted to her patient against her better judgement. And when the townsfolk start forming a mob after a series of attacks take place in the town of Napa Valley, Quentin will have to find a way to snap out of whatever’s been plaguing him to help the misunderstood residents of the Haven.
I love Quentin. He’s really yummy, excuse my shallow nature, because he’s a perfect dark, tortured character. Yet he is never cruel, and he clearly and single-mindedly devotes himself to Joanna the moment he sees her. His dark past only makes him more sympathetic rather than to be an excuse for his behavior. If you ask me, Quentin’s the best thing about this story.
But Joanna, eh. She’s the typical no-self-esteem woman who has been dumped before for being unwomanly. Oh, all she needs is a man to make her feel whole and alive again! Quentin, where is Quentin? It’s all rather insulting, I must say. Likewise, she runs the Haven the way everyone’s favorite Granny spoils her grandkids: very little discipline or rules. I understand if she feels that they are family, but we are talking about people with mental illnesses here. However modern political correctness tries to pretend that people with mental illnesses are normal and if we call them “special people” all their problems will disappear, they still need help. When the attacks start in town, Joanna actually feels guilty for suspecting her patients. If you ask me, she should feel guilty instead for not even keeping tab of where her patients come and go all the time. Maybe she should just pull up stakes and go run a summer band camp instead.
The conclusions are wrapped up too neatly for a plot that tries to deal with schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress, and mental illnesses in a substantial way. Secret of the Wolf is a story that feels as if it is trying very hard to be a powerful, emotional story with a difference, and it succeeds somewhat early on. Then, somehow, things go wrong with all those stereotypical characterization and plot twists and it ends up being a modern day PC pamphlet about special people instead. What a waste of a dark, mesmerizing, and broody hero.