When I first saw The Pack, I thought it looked completely cliché. Silly me… Jason Starr takes one of the more oft-used themes in urban fantasy, the werewolf community in modern society, and takes it in an original direction. The Pack has flaws, but it’s so real and the main character is so believable that I finished it in less than 24 hours. Starr deserves a lot of credit for crossing over from the crime fiction genre to urban fantasy and doing it well.
Simon Burns is truly your ordinary guy. He’s slipping in life. Many people will see themselves in Simon as he loses his job, has difficulty with his marriage, and finds himself cast into a completely unexpected role as a stay-at–home father to his young son. Simon exemplifies the common man, which makes him quite relatable and makes the story so much more interesting.
After going through the shock and transition of becoming the care-providing parent, Simon is struggling. His wife is not happy with how he is adjusting to his new role — and he is not happy to be in this new role. Simon is trying to figure out how to make things work when he runs into a group of seemingly cool fathers in a situation much like his. It’s easy for Simon to find some stability as he gets to know Michael, Charlie and Ramon.
Simon’s friendship with these guys develops quickly. What starts out as just some friends to talk to while their kids play together grows into activities outside of child-care. For Simon it leads to profound physical and emotional changes. Suddenly Simon finds his physical fitness improving for no reason he can see, and his self-confidence spikes as well. It’s as if he has undergone some sort of transformation into the sort of man he wished to be, but didn’t know how to become.
The Pack is a roller-coaster ride as Simon comes to grips with the source of his transformation, the effects it has on his relationship with his wife, and the price that he is lured into paying. I have to be honest, I don’t like Simon, but I really like the way that Starr portrays his trauma. Starr’s depiction of Simon’s reaction to his new physical traits and improved mental state is also very well written. How would a 30-something man react to suddenly becoming the equivalent of a world-class athlete, after being pretty average all his life?
I enjoyed The Pack for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s urban fantasy with a little grit. I also liked the fact that there are drawbacks to some of the changes that Simon undergoes. This is not an ideal world where everyone is beautiful and perfect. The only real drawback is that Starr doesn’t spend a lot of time fleshing out the “how” of being a werewolf. There are some hints and limited explanations, but the details of a viral infection, magic potion or curse never really become clear. It’s a small drawback to an otherwise interesting story, and it fits when considering Starr’s background writing in a different genre. I can’t wait for the next installment in the series.
The Pack — (2011-2012) Publisher: When Simon Burns is fired from his job without warning, he takes on the role of stay-at-home dad for his three-year-old son. But his reluctance pushes his already strained marriage to the limit. In the nestled playgrounds of the Upper West Side, Simon harbors a simmering rage at his boss’s betrayal. Things take a turn when he meets a tight-knit trio of dads at the playground. They are different from other men Simon has met, stronger and more confident, more at ease with the darker side of life — and soon Simon is lured into their mix. But after a guys’ night out gets frighteningly out of hand, Simon feels himself sliding into a new nightmarish reality. As he experiences disturbing changes in his body and his perceptions, he starts to suspect that when the guys welcomed him to their “pack,” they were talking about much more than male bonding. And as he falls prey to his basest instincts, Simon must accept that werewolves exist if he is to turn the tides of his fortune…
WOW!! I just recently added this book to my Amazon wish list and I didn’t even realize it was a werewolf story.
I’m only familiar with Jason Starr from a book he co-wrote for Hard Case Crime books that I’d read 3 or 4 years ago, so I thought it was a straight-up crime novel.
I was honestly pretty impressed. You can see that his background in NOT in Fantasy, but that only made the story that much better because he didn’t follow all the cliche storylines. Good stuff.
The Hard Case Crime book I read by Jason Starr and another writer was called Bust. It was pretty good. (BTW- any crime noir fans should check-out Hard Case Crime)
It seems there is a lot of mainstream mystery/suspense/thriller authors putting a fantasy or supernatural twist in their books lately.
@Greg: With mixed results in many cases, I might add!
I’ll have to check The Pack out; I like a good crossover but so often seem to stumble across the ones that don’t work. Good review, John.