Indonesian Greenpeace activists in tiger suits crawl during a protest to call for Sumatran tiger protection at the Forestry Ministry in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Dozens of activists staged the protest demanding the government to investigate illegal practices such as cutting down natural forests conducted by pulp and paper companies that will lead to the destruction of Sumatran tiger habitat. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Lone Wolf

By Jodi Picoult

(Hodder & Stoughton, R210)

The termination of life support… mercy or murder?

This is the provocative question on which best-selling author Jodi Picoult focuses in her latest novel, Lone Wolf.

Luke Warren, an animal behaviourist who is obsessed with living among wolves in order to study them, is in a coma after a car accident. His teenage daughter Cara is determined to keep her father alive by artificial means, believing he will recover.

Edward, his estranged son, is convinced they should cut off the life support and donate his father’s organs. What are their motivations? And which sibling has the right to decide?

So far we’re in familiar Picoult territory – the exploration of a controversial moral/ethical issue at the core of a medical and legal drama, backed by meticulous research.

More of her suspense-building trademarks, the emotional family feud and the promise of dark secrets to be revealed, will keep readers racing through the pages.

It is Luke’s account of living for two years with a wild wolf pack in Canada, told as a fascinating story-within-a-story, that adds a different dimension.

In her acknowledgements, Picoult relates that when she created the fictional Luke, she didn’t realise someone like that already existed in the real world.

Shaun Ellis, who has lived with a wolf pack, was willing to share with her his experience and knowledge of these mysterious creatures. He, too, has written a memoir.

Picoult has done some serious homework on the wolf sections, and they contain loads of detailed information. To a wolf, nothing matters more than family. And so Luke’s wolf pack becomes a metaphor for his own family – and in a wider sense for human families as a whole. We can learn a lot from the wisdom of wolves.

For instance, “when you’re a wolf, you live each day like it’s the only one you have”. I always love a good metaphor, especially when I actually get it, so for me this is the coolest aspect of the book.

The rest of the main characters also tell their stories in the first person, in chapter-by-chapter rotation. This narrative technique works well in terms of giving their different perspectives. The down- side is that the author doesn’t make a strong enough distinction in style between the various “voices”, so the characters lose identity and authenticity to some extent.

Overall, I found some of the writing contrived. But unless you are particularly picky, you won’t be put off by small-scale irritations of this sort. After all, Picoult is renowned for telling a compelling story about relevant issues in a highly readable way, rather than for the quality of her writing.

Her passion for her subject and for writing resonates through her work. This is why her novels fly off the shelves. And why her readers will pull an all-nighter to find out what finally happens.

Lone Wolf would make a stunning movie. A desperate life-and-death hospital scene cuts to a vast, snowy wilderness.

A ferocious but fetching wolf lopes across the icy plains. Blood-chilling howls echo through the cinema in surround sound. Of course, if you’re one of Picoult’s many die-hard devotees, you won’t want to wait for the film version. – Avis Perks