Daryl Gregory always gets a second look from me. I thought Afterparty interesting and clever, Harrison Squared interesting and clever, We Are All Completely Fine interesting and disturbing, Pandemonium interesting and challenging… You get the idea. When I think of Gregory’s writing, I think of clever, a story with emotional complexity, and a skewed way of looking at the world. The Album of Dr. Moreau achieves 2/3s of this, being a normal (for Gregory) mash-up relying on The Island of Dr. Moreau, boy-bands and a murder mystery.
Weighing in a novella length, it feels light on the emotional complexity I’m used to getting from his stories, as well as the knife-edged horror. If there’s horror here, it’s strictly of the boy-band variety, a type many will argue is inherently horrific for different reasons. Interestingly, although I originally hesitated to start reading at bedtime, (knowing how Gregory writes, I didn’t want it in my dreams), this one ended up being so easily digestible, I had no trouble reading before bed.
“But we don’t talk about [redacted], because… well, we’re a fucking boy band. We’re not The Cure.”
The feel of the book skews new or young adult, and with members of a boy-band center stage in plot and narration, it’s no surprise. The structural conceit is a 14-track album, with bonus track and Intro (which really should have been ‘Cover Notes’), which goes quickly. While it opens with a mysterious letter and CD addressed to a ‘Melanie,’ it really begins with the housekeeper discovering a very altered Bobby the party-cat(‘the cute one’) and a dead body in the room. Detective Lucia Delgado is at home trying to sleep through the racket of her daughter’s music when she’s called to the hotel by her partner for the investigation. Once they learn they have only a couple of days before the FBI (or FWS) steps in, the pressure to solve is on.
“‘Fifteen hours?’ Banks asked. ‘That’s not fair. In any decent movie, the hard-ass captain gives the detectives twenty-four hours to solve the case. Eddie Murphy got forty-eight.’
‘Eddie’s the criminal in that movie,’ Luce said.
‘Are you saying you’d rather be Nick Nolte? Nobody wants to be Nick Nolte, except for Gary Busey.'”
The beginning was a bit of a slower crawl for me, alternating between the viewpoints of various band members and the detective. Although we’re progressing the investigation through different people, their background knowledge is concealed, which makes for a complicated task of characterizing them. As such, they do rather take on boy-band personas, only being about as deep as their physical characteristics go.
The writing is still Daryl Gregory, although perhaps a lighter, more pop version:
“He’d evidently just stepped out of the shower, and he smelled amazing–a mix of citrus, cedar, and ex-boyfriend who just worked out.”
“They were both as fit and aggro-cheery as spin class instructors.”
Once I hit Track 8–excuse me, half way–I felt a lot more involved with both pace and writing style. I guess the exposition interviews just didn’t work as well as they could to keep me caring. It didn’t help that I was largely unfamiliar with the original work of H.G. Wells, and that I was waiting for the weirdness. The last quarter of the book is where I felt it really shone. This might be another case of Gregory appealing to a more niche group, only this case, I’m not in it–although I’m clearly in the age group the jokes are aimed at. Still, he writes it, I’ll read it. If it sounds intriguing, I’d say give it a shot.