As it happened, there was other evidence arriving against Jules Lamotte. All of it worthless of course; but if you add enough of it together, is it still worthless? In the new mathematics there is a formula to the effect that enough of nothings may finally add up to something.
The term “loup garou”—French for werewolf—contains a redundancy. Though in today’s French it has come to mean any sort of transformation or hidden nature—“chat-garou”; “chien-garou” etc.—the etymology of the original term (and you can be sure that Lafferty was aware of this) means “wolf man-wolf.” It’s as if, even with all the weight of myth and folk history behind the idea of lycanthropy, the idea of transformation between the two beings is so outlandish it has to be repeated in order for the effect to take hold. (For the French, anyway. Note how the Greeks and Saxons just jam the two natures together: this will in fact be central to solving the mystery to come.)
The plot of this detective story depends on exactly that sort of repetition: every time the phrase “loup garou” is uttered, or the transformation from man to wolf mooted, the atmosphere becomes that much more laden with superstition and paranoia, until there seems no other conclusion than that the old folktales are true. This same repetition also accounts for why Loup Garou is much more successful as a short novel than a longish short story—the extra room doesn’t really give the story space to breathe; on the contrary, it gives it extra room to suffocate.
In brief: the redneck town of Yellow Knife—so rough that “the only paint salesman who ever lived there had starved to death”—is disturbed by a series of sheep killings, all by the same huge wolf. The men of Yellow Knife agitate for their young sheriff, Otis Pidgeon, to hunt the wolf down before any more sheep are lost. There’s some great set pieces here: the first, failed night of the hunt, with a perfect shot spoiled through the clumsiness of the Pidgeon’s French bum assistant, and then the impossibility of wolf prints turning into the tracks of a man’s boots. There’s the country-store liar’s version of how a man goes about transforming into a wolf, including why such men always have sore ankles, and why the nub of a tail is the one thing that never quite goes away. And then there’s the tail-hunt scene following immediately after, where every man-jack of the town is called in to drop his trousers and submit to minute inspection. (Lafferty was clearly proud of this scene, as he has another character later—Lysander Grogg, a moonshiner who is the one learned man in the town—declare that “There’s an incident in the third book of Pantagruel that is step-kidney to it, but nothing really like it ever happened in the world before.”
Throughout, suspicion builds against one Jules Lamotte, especially after he comes into the store for linament for his sore ankles, and while there refuses to be inspected for a tail. The mob mentality builds in intensity from there until a final, climactic hunt where Pidgeon shoots the wolf through the head with a market bullet and then stakes it through the heart—“It became with them like an orgasm, staking that wolf” [!!]—only to be confronted afterward with Lamotte’s body, head-shot with the same bullet, heart-staked with the same maul.
As sole suspect for a lurid murder in a town always eager for a hanging, Pidgeon does the only thing he can under the circumstances—leave town (after firmly swearing to come back) to go fishing with the sheriff of the next town over, a Frenchman who provides a few invaluable hours of calm, as well as a core truth about the French that proves essential in cracking the case.
I’ve left a lot out here—there’s the ragged, spooky daughter of one of the town men, “an adolescent of savage strain, perhaps sufficient to spark poltergeist manifestation,” who takes a shine to Pidgeon (shades here of Loretta Sheen and Mary Mondo, from the Austro stories). There’s Lamotte’s wife Madelon, a woman who may be handsome but is certainly classy—not to mention fierce. There’s the men of the town, many with memorable quirks, all of them sharply drawn. And there’s great quotes such as this from Grogg (anticipating later bits from works like Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis? and East of Laughter):
Is even a fraud like myself a fraud when he makes no pretense of being anything else? What is fraudulent? Is a fraud still a fraud when he admits to being a fraud? It’s a fine point.
Yet the typescript only runs 160 pages, about 40 short of the normal Lafferty novel: a great deal of incident and color is packed into these pages. Much of this remains in the eventually published short-story version, “Three Shadows of the Wolf”—which I’ll treat separately later, especially since there is an added coda to that tale which represents a complete tonal shift—but a great deal more is lost as well. An ideal world, which would of course contain a complete Lafferty, would also have a comparative edition showing the alterations, deletions, and additions made between the two works—a study in the exigencies of publishing.
Completed January 1960. Revised as novel, January 1961. Reverted to short story, February 1974. Unpublished as novel; short story (with added coda) published as “Three Shadows of the Wolf,” Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Edward L. Ferman, March 1975.