Saturday, December 3, 2016

Book Reviews: Monster

by A. Lee Martinez
This is a light hearted book about love, magic, and the possible end of existence as we know it. In this book magic is real, although most people don't realize it. There are three types of humans. The first group is the largest. These people don't believe in magic, don't understand it and if forced to deal with it will create for themselves a reality where magic doesn't exist. For these folks there is always a rational explanation for an odd event. If something magical happens in front of them their brain will create an alternate reason before wiping the event from their memory. The second group of people are slightly more magic-sensitive. They can believe in magic and under certain special circumstances can even use magic themselves. But like the first group they will generally forget supernatural events that occurred, though it might take a little longer for this to happen. They may go insane trying to remember magic. Some of these people spend their whole lives trying to grasp something they saw from the corner of their eye. But they never can quite see it. This is not a matter of hard work or training. It's something you either have or you don't. To paraphrase a snide book character, "You can't teach a monkey to drive a stick shift can you?" It's just genetics. The smallest group of humanity, and this group is indeed rare, is made up of those people who are not only aware of magic but are able to use it and interface with it without going insane or forgetting things that happened in order to save their own sanity. These people really do know what goes bump in the night and who the Boogeyman is. This group of people, despite their genetic ability to recognize or use magic, is otherwise like any other group of humans. They vary widely in their abilities, morals, motivation and intelligence. 

Monster is a man who falls into the third group. He runs his own pest control agency. This is a crypto-biological removal agency. Monster captures and removes such "mythical" beasts as griffins, centaurs, kraken, ogres, trolls, wendigo etc. Monster has a college degree in this field. However business is not great because of competition, intrusive licensing and regulation, and arduous post-grad training. And getting bit or stung by magical creatures can have unpleasant side effects.

When Judy, a slacker and night shift clerk at a Food Plus Mart, notices a yeti in the freezer eating all of the ice cream she calls Animal Control Services. Eventually Monster arrives. On his best day Monster is a sarcastic irritable smart mouth. This is not his best day. When Judy tells Monster that she doesn't think his plan to capture the yeti will work Monster's reply is swift and biting:
"Lady, I don't recall asking you what you thought. How about I leave the delicate art of stacking canned goods in decorative pyramids to you, and you leave the yeti wrangling to me?"

After safely dispensing with the yeti however Monster starts getting many more calls for mythical beasts that need to be captured. All of these creatures are in the vicinity of Judy or her friends and relatives. As Monster's sidekick and apprentice Chester (a sixth dimensional being who only partially exists on this plane) points out this probably isn't a coincidence. Despite their misgivings and occasional dislike for one another Judy and Monster will have to work together to discover why these events are centered around Judy. This is tricky for Monster. He tires of having to re-explain everything to Judy every time he sees her. Also if Monster's very beautiful and very jealous girlfriend Liz even suspects that Monster is looking at another woman let alone doing anything with her Monster will be in serious trouble. As Liz happens to be a demon (a beautiful Succubus) from Hell, incurring her wrath can be deadly to body and soul. When Liz is just mildly annoyed things around her start to smolder. When she's angry, her hellfire can rival the sun's temperature. As a succubus, Liz is attuned to any expression of Monster's lust or romantic interest-especially if it's not aimed at her. But Judy is no pushover either. She wants answers from Monster. And she's more capable at handling herself in a brawl than Monster is, something which frustrates Monster.

This book works the same side of the street as works by Terry Pratchett, Bill Fitzhugh or Tim Dorsey. I thought the humor was understated and subtle, not quite slapstick. I didn't laugh out loud much reading this book. It wasn't drop dead hilarious. But the story did have its share of sly jokes and innuendo, often between Monster and his assistant Chester. Because he works alone and is intimate with a demon, Monster often forgets the normal niceties of human interaction. Chester regularly reminds him of these things. Because Chester is not from this dimension and has a massive superiority complex, he has his own blind spots about human male-female interactions, something which always shocks Monster. This quirky book was just over 300 pages. I thought the villain was underdeveloped. The story drags a bit in the middle.  Still, this was a decent read even if the narrative skipped around too much for my taste. Monster usually goes out of his way to avoid killing the creatures he captures, both because they're worth more alive and because deep down inside Monster has a soft side.
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