Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder, and she's being examined by a police psychiatrist to discover whether she is fit for trial or fit for a straitjacket. There are a few wrinkles, however, that need to be ironed out. She might not be Jane Charlotte. She might not have killed anyone. She might not be in jail. Right from page one, you're already halfway down the rabbit hole in Matt Ruff's latest novel, Bad Monkeys. Ruff, the author of the critically lauded Set This House in Order, Fool on the Hill and Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, ladles a dollop of William S. Burroughs into an Ian Fleming base in such a mesmerizing way it will have you scratching your head and doubling back to make sure you scooped up every psychedelic-laden morsel.

A shadowy, non-governmental, but very powerful agency (think Impossible Missions Force here) called the organization engaged the services of a young Jane Charlotte to capture or extinguish miscreants whom they call Bad Monkeys. Jane's particular subdivision—and you can bet they don't have business cards—is The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, and Jane Charlotte recounts to the police psychiatrist the curious turn of events that led her to be picked for her work as a high-minded (and highly irregular) vigilante. Along the way, she encounters agents of The Troop (think SMERSH, T.H.R.U.S.H. or the DMV), evildoers whose sole aim it is to thwart the organization and introduce wickedness into the world. Trouble is, her long-lost brother just might be The Troop's criminal mastermind, and Jane Charlotte may have to lure him out or take him out. Told mostly in flashback, the plot twists like capellini in a bubbling cauldron, and the complex sequence of events both demands and rewards your rapt attention.

 

Thane Tierney had a complete Man from U.N.C.L.E. rig when he was a kid.

 

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