Meet Sven. Sven is a jewel thief in Montpellier (albeit a jewel thief with the head of a dog – most of Jason’s characters are dogs who walk and talk and dress as if they were human). His particular schtick is that he dresses like a werewolf when he robs people’s houses so that, if he is discovered, he will have a moment, when the owner is startled by the sight of a werewolf in their front room, to make his escape. The thing is – at the opening of Werewolves of Montpellier – he is spotted and winds up on the cover of the Midi Libre, thereby coming to the attention of the real werewolves of Montpellier who, recognising that someone non-Brotherhood is operating, vow to track him down.
But Sven is not just a jewel thief. He lives in an apartment opposite Audrey and Julie, a lesbian couple, and appears to have something of a crush on Audrey (who nevertheless tries to set him up with her friends). Personal hygiene is not high on Sven’s list (‘When was the last time you vacuumed in here?’ Audrey asks, staring at his dirty carpet). But he’s an interesting character. He likes to play chess in the park with his buddy (discussing the breasts of attractive French actresses). He likes to draw (quite intricate pictures of the world around him, we see him disturbed by rain as he recreates a typically ornate French lamppost). We frequently see him inbetweentimes, walking along streets, lying in bed, going on dates, like a character from an old Beat Takeshi movie.
The werewolves – like the walking dead in The Living and the Dead – are always there, behind the scenes, waiting for their moment. A compromised werewolf is suffocated in a hospital bed following a failed attempt to capture Sven. We glimpse a rare and arcane code of practice among the werewolves. They are a stoic, aristocratic breed. In many ways, they add a sort of nourish tinge to what could be a Jason-esque attempt to write a French Woody Allen movie. The narrative is also slightly more complex than perhaps we would normally expect from Jason (this is a book more in keeping with The Left Bank Gang rather than, say, I Killed Adolf Hitler). There are also (seemingly as ever) new tricks and devices Jason uses (such as the tumbling frame in which we see a drunken Sven and Audrey return to their respective apartments) that you feel like he should have used a hundred million times already but will probably never recur again, providing just another flash of invention and loveliness amidst a hundred other such flashes.
By the time the narrative concludes (sadly in some respects, asking the big questions – ‘why do people leave?’ – thereby combining the lightness and comedy we’ve come to expect with that gradually darkening thoughtfulness that has been apparent even from the days of Ssssssh and Hey Now) all you want to do is flick back to the start and start over again. So you do.
Any Cop?: All told, Werewolves of Montpellier is easily as good as everything else Jason has produced. Which is hardly a strong critical line to take but what the hell? When someone is good it doesn’t hurt just to say someone is good. In fact, it’s positively good for the soul. So. There you go. Jason is good. You should check out Werewolves of Montpellier. In fact you should hastily work your way through Jason’s back catalogue (it probably wouldn’t take you more than a day). Consider it medicine for your soul.