Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Reviews: Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International
by Larry Correia
I had heard different things about this book. Judging by some of his blog posts the author seemed like an optimistic sort though we certainly wouldn't agree on very much politically. Correia has said that this book and the resulting series was inspired in part by his love for classic and cheap horror movies, the kind that come on late night or on Saturday afternoons. This book's premise shared some themes with the Supernatural tv series. So I decided to give this older book, Correia's first and initially self-published novel, a chance. It was an okay read. I liked the opening. I didn't like some of Correia's right-wing swipes at his political betes noires. But compared to some authors (cough* Stephen Hunter* cough) for the most part this book didn't have too many political statements. The characters' behavior is itself an explicit political statement. People tell aspiring writers to write what they know. I guess Correia took that advice. The story protagonist is a Correia avatar in terms of looks, attitude, career path, size and politics. Owen Zastava Pitt is a huge (6'4"+, 300lb+) recent college graduate who works as an accountant. Owen has an interesting family background. His Green Beret father was a disciplinarian survivalist. Owen's father insisted that his sons learn to handle weapons and protect themselves. Owen may be white collar but he can fight, thanks not only to his father's training but also to Owen's past employment as a bouncer and underground cage fighter. When pushed Owen has a bad temper. However in the corporate arena the size of your paycheck means more than your physical size. And Owen doesn't make much money. He's under the thumb of a boss who can charitably be described as an a$$hole. Owen doesn't care for his boss. And the feeling is definitely mutual. One night while Owen is working late with no one else around, his boss calls him into the office and explains that he never did like Owen. And then the boss shifts form and tries to eat Pitt. Yes you see the boss is a werewolf. But Owen is not a man who runs from confrontation. More importantly, he can't outrun a werewolf. A knockdown, drag out no holds barred fight ensues. It doesn't help Owen's chances that a werewolf can almost immediately heal itself from most wounds. This was both an exciting fight and something that was almost satire. Long story short, Owen manages to throw his boss out of a 14th story window. Even a werewolf can't regenerate from that. Owen is severely wounded and technically briefly dies. 

Owen wakes up in a hospital regarded cautiously by unfriendly government agents who inform him that if he should tell anyone of his experiences he will disappear, likely permanently. Owen is also greeted by a chain smoking man of indeterminate age who introduces himself as Earl Harbinger and a beautiful serious young woman whose name is Julie Shackleford. Earl and Julie run Monster Hunter International (MHI). MHI is a private company licensed to capture or kill monsters-vampires, werewolves, ghouls, etc. All of these things exist. All of these creatures have various government bounties attached for hunters. MHI gives Owen a check for the werewolf he killed. The fact that Owen was able to kill a werewolf all by himself and hasn't had an emotional breakdown or gone insane means that he's exactly the kind of person that Earl and Julie want to hire. That is,they want to hire him if he's got the stones. Well, stones Owen has in abundance. He will join MHI for the money, the camaraderie, the excitement, the training, the guns and the chance to get next to Julie. She's just Owen's type. There's just a few problems. (1) The enigmatic Earl, Julie's relative, warns Owen that if Owen ever hurts or disappoints Julie, Earl will be displeased. (2) Julie already has a boyfriend with whom she appears to be content. Owen and Julie's man, a MHI supervisor, take an immediate dislike to each other. (3) Although Owen isn't afraid to mix it up physically with any one at any time and is something of a smarta$$, he gets tongue tied around Julie. Either he can't find the words to say to her or stupidly blurts out too much information at exactly the wrong time. But Julie doesn't have time for Owen's goo goo eyes. MHI has new teams to train. They've lost good people chasing monsters. They need to get the new recruits up to speed as soon as possible. Atypically some master vampires have started working together. MHI can't figure out why. But Owen thinks he knows why. Since his short "death" he's been having visions and warnings from a ghostly WW2 era Eastern European Jewish hunter. This hunter knows what's coming and intends to get Owen ready to fight it. And only all existence is at stake.

I thought the book was too long. The description of the swamps and caves where much of the action takes place is excessive. Correia, along with being a former accountant, is also a former firearms instructor and gun dealer. So there is a lot of information about guns. There's endless exposition on choosing the right gun for a particular person or job.  Correia likes guns. YMMV on this. Unlike some of Stephen Hunter's later work though, none of this knowledge is transmitted with a sneering exclusionary "I'm a real American and you're not" tone. MHI rushes from one crisis to another. Some family secrets are revealed. Owen has a self-deprecating sense of humor, most of which revolves around his massive size. The main thing I didn't like about this story is that Owen is too often a deus ex machina when his team gets into a tight fix. That damaged my ability to care about some of the characters. The humor carries this book through some of the (from my POV) leaden political statements or people occasionally doing stupid things to advance the story. All in all I'll probably read the rest of the series. Although the book is in my opinion too long it rarely drags. There's a lot of action. Hijinks and narrow escapes occur on almost every page. I liked Owen's run-ins with the laconic federal agent Franks, who is about as big as Owen and to Owen's dismay MUCH faster and more skilled at fighting than Owen.
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