"You don't need an engraved invitation to do good works in the world, Jane," he said. "You want to do them you, you just go out and do them. "
Bad Monkeys, by Seattle author Matt Ruff, is a great book. If you like mysteries, secret organizations, weird Sci-Fi, or absurd humor, you should find something to love about this book.
I was a little nervous when I started to read it. A few years back (before I was writing these reviews) I read Ruff's "Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy." That was another great book, but it was immensely complex. It was the first book I had to take notes on since college. I ended up with multiple pages in Windows Journal, about 30 post-it notes, and a family tree sketch as I tried to keep track of who was whom, and what was going on. I mean, the book involved the original design of Disney World, a Polka Dot submarine, and a talking, artificial Ayn Rand trapped in a hurricane lamp. The book is worth the effort, but, wow. It was an effort. Maybe it’s a good warm up for the Silmarillion.
Fortunately, Bad Monkeys is an easier read. There are fewer characters and the plot appears more straight forward.
Here is the synopsis from the back cover:
You can read an introductory excerpt here.
Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.
She tells police that she is a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil; her division is called "The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons" — "Bad Monkeys" for short.
This confession earns Jane a trip to the jail's psychiatric wing, where a doctor attempts to determine whether she is lying, crazy — or playing a different game altogether.
Ruff takes us on a journey involving Panopticon, Scary Clowns, ant farms, cryogenics, urban legends, and Las Vegas. The Scary Clowns group is especially interesting -- their origins and politics flesh out the story nicely.
The book really begins when the jail's Doctor asks Jane about how she got involved with Bad Monkeys. She tells a story about her brother Phil's disappearance and her own encounter with a serial killer. The rest of the book follows her as she grows older and eventually starts working for the organization.
I don't want to go into much greater detail about the book because Jane's journey is highly entertaining, and filled with spoilers. Ruff keeps the suspense up throughout the book and the final chapters are filled with the kind of plot twists that, in a less skilled hand, would be stupid. Ruff deftly handles them, however, and they seem just right. He fills the book with twists that I never saw coming, but, in retrospect are obvious.
This gives the book a quality I rarely find -- rereadability. Now I want to read the book again to see everything I missed on the first read through -- those key elements that were staring me in the face the whole time.
Ruff has great phrasing in the book. These are a few of my favorites:
"The gun shoots heard attacks?"I highly recommend Bad Monkeys. It's funny, faced paced, suspenseful, and philosophical. It raises questions of trust and betrayal. And the way Ruff turns a phrase makes it hard to put down.
"Myocardial infarctions," she says tapping a finger on the cause-of-death line in the autopsy report. "MIs. And the CI setting, that's for cerebral infarctions. Heart attack and stroke, the two leading killers of bad monkeys…"
"Phil did believe in the bible. Part of believing that the bible is true is believing that any problems in the text have solutions. Actually knowing what those solutions are isn't important. It's like, just because I can't tell you what killed the dinosaurs doesn't mean they aren't extinct.
You can wait for a bight future pretty much anywhere, right? And while I was waiting, just in case it mattered, I cleaned up my act.
Look, there are basically two reasons people go to college. Some people go there to learn something, something specific, I mean, a trade or a vocation. Other people -- like me -- just go for the experience. I was like one of those starving-artist types, people who convince themselves back in grade school that they have a destiny to become actors or musicians or writers. For them, college is a place to mark time until their destiny kicks in.
"She wants to be useful. It would be very easy for someone in Annie's position to spend to spend the rest of her life paralyzed by guilt, but she wants her remaining time to count for something. "
"It's an imperfect metaphor. Panopticon's run by geeks, not poets."
You can see Ruff's post publication thoughts on the book and characters here. This link does contain spoilers, so read the book first.
You can find more of my book reviews here.