Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Lone Wolf (e-book) by Louis Joseph Vance

The Lone Wolf is an adventure story originally published back in 1914. I think it's the first book in Vance's Lone Wolf series. Those interested in reading it can download it for free via Project Gutenberg.


The main character was just a young boy when he was abandoned at a hotel called Troyon's by a man who may or may not have taken him from his parents. He was renamed Marcel Troyon, learned to speak French, and was raised without affection. As he grew older, he took to thieving and occasionally stole a few coins here and there from the guests at Troyon's. One such guest, Bourke, caught him. Rather than turning him in to Troyon's owners, Bourke took him under his wing. By 1910, when Bourke died, “Marcel Troyon” was long gone. In his place was Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, whose guiding principles were to never have friends and never fall in love.

Years later, Lanyard returns to Troyon's after a few successful thefts. His intention is to lay low for a while, so he's a little startled to see Roddy, a detective from Scotland Yard. However, Roddy isn't after him. He's focused on Monsieur le Comte Remy de Morbihan. Seeing as how he has nothing better to do, Lanyard figures he'll watch De Morbihan too.

To Lanyard's shock, De Morbihan indicates that he knows who the Lone Wolf is. It's not long before Lanyard finds himself in the cross-hairs of the Pack, a mysterious criminal group De Morbihan is part of. He is given two choices: either join the Pack or cease operations in any of the Pack's territories and perhaps eventually be assassinated.


I was having trouble deciding what to read next and chose this book, out of all the ones in my e-book collection, using a random number generator. I couldn't even remember why I'd added it to my collection, but, now that I've finished it, I'm pretty sure it was one I downloaded after thoroughly enjoying Maurice Leblanc's The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar. Lanyard and Lupin had several similarities, and one character in Vance's book even said they were much alike. Unfortunately, Lanyard wasn't as enjoyable a character as Lupin.

Early on, I realized that this was not going to be an easy read for me. I had to reread certain sentences and paragraphs several times to try to figure out what they meant. My trouble with understanding portions of this book was, at least in part, due to my limited vocabulary. For example, I was very confused by Vance's frequent references to Apaches in Paris. When I finally looked the word up in the dictionary, I learned that “Apache” can mean “Parisian gangster.” Ah ha! However, it also seemed to me that some sentences were more confusingly/awkwardly constructed than they needed to be. Or perhaps I'm just too much of a modern reader.

Lanyard started off as a wonderful character, with lots of potential for depth and complexity. He was abandoned at Troyon's, a place where he was not loved and where he learned to only rely on himself. He was intelligent, had guts, and felt no shame in the thieving he did. He knew next to nothing about his past and was free to make himself into whoever he wanted to be. I thought perhaps that the story would focus on Lanyard's origins. After all, one of the member of the Pack was American, and Lanyard thought that he himself might have come from America before being left at Troyon's. Also, one of the members of the Pack bore a striking resemblance to Lanyard. I imagined a story in which Lanyard learned he was related to at least one of the members of the Pack and was faced with the decision to either join a family he'd secretly longed for but knew nothing about or cut all ties with them and continue being the Lone Wolf.

I don't know if any of the other books in Vance's Lone Wolf series explore Lanyard origins prior to ending up at Troyon's, but this one certainly didn't. The focus was entirely on Lanyard's attempts to evade the Pack, his budding feelings for Lucy, and his inner turmoil about who and what he was in comparison to the members of the Pack. This could have been even more fun than the book I was expecting, except Lanyard wasn't nearly as awesome as I think Vance wanted him to be.

Lanyard looked down on the Pack's members for being lesser criminals than himself, and yet he spent most of the book on the run from them. After years of supposedly succumbing neither to friendship nor love, he fell in love with Lucy for seemingly no reason beyond the fact that she was stereotypically feminine and the story called for it. This love caused him to do stupid things that would otherwise have been out of character, which set up a blindingly obvious plot twist.

All in all, this book was not nearly as good as I had hoped it would be, and I found myself skimming it near the end. The initial setup had promise, despite my difficulties with the writing, but Lanyard turned out to be a disappointment.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

  • Kindaichi Case Files (manga) story by Yozaburo Kanari, art by Fumiya Sato - This series has the same feel as a lot of classic mysteries by authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The main character is a high school student who helps the police solve crimes. Each volume in the series focuses on a single mystery and is pretty self-contained - you could probably start with any volume you wished and be fine. I've skipped around a bit and still haven't read the first volume. If you'd particularly like another story with a clever thief, you might try The Kindaichi Case Files: The Gentleman Thief (I think this is volume 14 in the series), in which the thief targets a famous artist. If you'd like a little more information, I wrote about this volume in this post.
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar (e-book) by Maurice Leblanc - If you liked Lanyard or even just the idea of him, you must try this series out. You can even download this book for free from Project Gutenberg. I've written a review.
  • Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (anime movie) - Lupin III is a classic anime character, and I think this is considered a classic movie - I don't have much personal experience with it, although, having been an anime fan for years, I can't help but know about Lupin III. Lupin III is inspired by Leblanc's Arsene Lupin character, just as I'm guessing Lupin inspired Vance to create Michael Lanyard.
  • A Study in Scarlet (book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The first book in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series. I have to admit, I've only read a small number of Sherlock Holmes stories and books, and it's been long enough ago since I last read one that I can't remember if I have any favorites.

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