Martinez’ The Automatic Detective was on of my favorite reads of 2008 for its clever combination of humor and tropes from both the hard-boiled and science fiction genres. While I wouldn’t rank Monster as quite as entertaining I still found it a wholly enjoyable read full of Martinez’s clever and frequently humorous ideas. Our main character, Monster, works for the Cyptobiological Containment and Rescue Services division of Animal Control. A routine call from Supermarket employee Judy turns into a not-so routine mission and Monster, with his paper gnome partner (actually the paper gnome is an interface device for a highly evolved entity from the 6th dimension) Chester, is plunged from their day-to-day job into events far bigger than they’re used.
I stuggled a bit getting into Monster something about it just wouldn’t click about what was going on. Part of the problem I think is the mixed narrative POVs. The Automatic Detective had the advantage of being fixed mostly behind a single character while Monster takes a more varied approach splitting the narrative between Monster, Judy, and Pearl. In the beginning this makes things a bit less interesting since the first character we meet is Judy, the relatively normal human. Judy, isn’t really a bad character, but she really isn’t what I signed up for, so to speak. No. What I wanted was the weird and the unusual and in that department Monster delivers quite nicely.
What really sold me on Monster, as a character, was the dynamic between him and Chester. As Monster puts it at one point, and I paraphrase, “I don’t pay you to be my conscious Jiminy.” The reference is an apt one as Chester, more often than not, serves as the voice of reason; though not necessarily reality. Typically speaking it is an extremely sarcastic voice. In fact any scene where more than one of the main characters interact is pretty entertaining and snarky back and forth dialogue seems to a strength of Martinez’.
Martinez’ writing is difficult to describe. I suppose you might say he employs big ideas with a practical approach. Similar to how J. K. Rowling uses magic for practical purposes Martinez takes the fantastic elements of his fiction and not only uses them for practical effect but typically finds a way to color his fantastic creations with a touch of the mundane. Using transformation magic to turn dangerous creatures into easily moved object. A cow turned human that chews gum. Post-it notes or a simple pad and pen for the use of rune magic. Magical divisions of basic civil agencies (the Reds working alongside police). All are combinations of the mundane and the fantastic. Perhaps the best example is Monster’s girlfriend who is, quite literally from hell. Sure she is a succubus, but a succubus who tries to cultivate plants (because her touch withers them) and whose sexual needs have become as much a chore as anything else. It is relationship with a mythological creature that, at least from Monster’s perspective, has become completely mundane.
Amongst all the human and good times Martinez somehow manages to take a look at the nature of both the universe and humanity. Both Monster and Judy stand in as sort of surrogates for the reader. Judy with ability to partially recognize magic can be read as a stand-in for our own ability to recognize wonder in the world but frequent inability to hold onto that same fact in the face of the drudgery of real life. Monster, despite his occupation as a hunter of mythological creature is indicitive of the working everyman and a testament that even wonder and magic can boiled down to both the mundane and the routine. At least that was my reading, maybe it is simply what I brought to the text. Regardless, Monster despite the slow start was an entertaining read full of a fascinating ideas and spot-on humor. While I’m of the opinion that Martinez’s writing is intelligent enough to allow for a deeper meaning behind the pure entertainment, the pure entertainment definitely worth the cover price. So if your tired of latest “urban fantasy” trying its hardest to be edgy or dark, or if you’re in the mood for a light, fun, read do yourself a favor come May and give Monster a try, you won’t regret it.