Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bad Monkeys

Bad Monkeys on
Matt Ruff, 2007

Highly recommended.

As a librarian I'm not sure I should admit this, but I picked up Bad Monkeys entirely because of the cover. Talk about leaping out at you from the shelf, the publishers not only gave it a bright yellow, vinyl cover but made it nine and a half inches high by five inches wide. That's an image of a mandrill monkey you see on the front cover, though at first I took it for a Rorschach ink blot.

Bad Monkeys has one of my favorite thriller themes, the super secret organization. Jane Charlotte is a member of an organization dedicated to fighting evil. It isn't part of any government, has no fixed location, and is only known as "the organization." The departments within the organization have long and convoluted names. Jane works for the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, nicknamed Bad Monkeys. The intelligence gathering group is The Department of Ubiquitous Intermittent Surveillance otherwise known as Panopticon.

What's a secret organization fighting evil without an equally secret adversary? the organization is opposed by Mandrill, a group that believes in evil for the sake of evil.

As the book opens, Jane has been arrested for murder and is undergoing an interview to determine her sanity. She told the detectives that arrested her that she is in a secret crime-fighting organization, something not likely to accepted by law enforcement. The verbal sparing between Jane and Dr. Vale is well written and interesting. The present day interview is interspersed with flashbacks as Jane describes her bad girl youth, recruitment into the organization, and the events that led to her capture. Is she really an operative or is she nuts?

The capabilities of the organization are more in the realm of science fiction and I imagine Homeland security would like to have some of their gadgets. Panopticon (see above) not only knows what you read but how often reread certain passages and if you laughed inappropriately (like the Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah). They literally see and hear everything. That Marlene Dietrich poster above your bed, yep the eyes see what you do. Jane relates a time when she was questioned by Dixon from Malfeasance, the Panopticon subdivision that investigates operatives. They are discussing The Delta of Venus, a copy of which Jane stole when she was twelve.

"It's curious sort of literature, though, isn't it?" Dixon said."for example, the third story in the book - the one entitled `The Boarding School' - concerns a young student at a monastery who is ogled by priests and sexually violated by his classmates ... This is what you consider wholesome erotic entertainment?"
"I don't remember that story."
"Don't you? I'd have thought it was a favorite. According to my records, you read it nineteen times while the book was in your possession."
"According to your records?"
"Library Binding."
Bad Monkeys is a good read if you are partial to this genre as I am. It is well paced and I had a difficult time not finishing it in one sitting. The concepts are intriguing and the action sequences well done. Ruff successfully keeps the reader wondering about Jane through to the end.