Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bad Monkeys

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff (2007, HarperCollins Publishers)

The first words ever to meander through my brain in relation to Matt Ruff were, "Oooh, pretty!" This might seem strange to some of you, but that would simply mean that you've never seen the nearly obscenely neon dadaist cover of Ruff's sophomore novel Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy. His latest novel, Bad Monkeys, can best be visually described as intriguingly creepy, with its hazard yellow jacket and macaque-shaped Rorschach blot cover. But far from being just an author with great-looking books, Ruff is a master storyteller who is only getting better with each novel he publishes.

Bad Monkeys tells the story of Jane Charlotte, who sits in an interview room in the psychiatric wing of a Las Vegas prison after going on a violent rampage in a casino, then telling the police that she works for an arm of an invisible group dedicated to fighting evil. As she tells her amazing and unbelievable story to the psychiatrist assigned to her, the edges between fantasy and reality begin to blur, until they finally become completely insignificant. From trying to expose serial killers in her youth to NC (Natural Causes) guns and Mandrill bombs to quantum-powered DNA-specific X-drugs, Ruff not only twists the plot, but totally reverses it on multiple occasions.

This novel reads like a combination of a Chuck Palahniuk novel, a Phillip K. Dick novel, and a Terry Gilliam movie, though Ruff manages, as always, to tell his story in a voice that is completely and uniquely his own. In Bad Monkeys, he brings together elements of all of his past works: the uncertain psychological aspects of Set This House in Order, the far-out pop culture and action of Sewer, Gas, and Electric, and the epic and sweeping archtypal conflicts of Fool on the Hill.

Bad Monkeys demands to be read: so go pick up a copy, read it with the lights low... and for goodness' sake, don't be a Bad Monkey.

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Author's Website

Three Bags Full

Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann (2007, Flying Dolphin Press)

The "cozy mystery" genre really isn't my cup of tea, laced with arsenic or not. German author Leonie Swann's Three Bags Full, however, uses a gimmick that was nearly impossible for me to resist: crime-solving sheep.

When their shepherd is found with a shovel sticking out of him, the sheep of George Glenn's flock reluctantly endeavor to discover who in the tiny Irish village of Glennkill killed him. Lead by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the entire world), the investigation draws in the rest of the flock: Sir Richfield, Othello, Mopple the Whale, and many others. The resulting adventure is moving, comical, and strangely enlightening.

The only downfall to Swann's story is that sometimes the prose gets so wrapped up in telling the story through the eyes of the sheep that it becomes confusing and disorienting to human readers. It's hard to say whether this is due to the actual writing or the translation (Three Bags Full was originally published in German, but these spots are, thankfully, few and far between. Swann runs the gamut of comedy, drama, tragedy, and suspense, and always keeps the reader guessing as to the real answers to the mystery right up until the end.

Fans of british mysteries will find Three Bags Full to be familiar territory with a new and interesting twist. All but the most vehemently anti-mystery readers are sure to find something here to warm up to as well. With a debut like this, Leonie Swann is definitely an author to keep an eye on.

Rating: 3 Stars