Monster Town

by Bruce Golden

Reviewed by William Santorik

If you'd like to travel to a place unlike any you've ever visited, take a trip to Monster TownIt's just around the corner from dark humor, up the road from reality. Bruce Golden's newest book not only isn't like any of his others, and it's not really comparable to any I've read before.

Envision a world where the old movie monsters of black and white horror cinema were actually real people (real monsters?)--actors who played themselves in those films. What if those melodramatic flicks lost their popularity and the monsters had to find other jobs to support themselves? What if they were shunned by their fellow movie-makers and took up residence in a town just outside of Hollywood? In the world Golden has created, all of this has happened to create the setting for Monster Town. But movie monsters aren't the only target of his literary wit (and I use the term "literary" in its most basic form).

Golden has also taken on the genre of the hard-boiled detective story, and the film noir which evolved from it. Monster Town is narrated in first person
by private detective Dirk Slade, and it's in his narration that this story reveals its true self. If you listen carefully, you can hear it in the book's first two lines.

It was a hard wet rain that beat an ominously staccato rhythm on the roof of my Packard as I drove to the outskirts of the city. Thunder rumbled overhead like a bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof, and I imagined the ferocious whipcracks of lightning tearing great rents in time and space.

A "hard wet rain" is the first signal that Golden is going to push the boundaries of that old hard-boiled narration with satire.  A "bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof" is the metaphoric leap past the perimeter of those boundaries, and "ferocious whipcracks of lightning tearing great rents in time and space" warn the reader to expect otherworldly encounters.

The tenor of this tale lies in its subtly satirical presentation, and, of course, its quirky characters. Sure, it's funny to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame tending bar and Frankenstein's monster as a high school football coach, but the way Golden writes it, there's no silliness. He plays the plot straight.

Initially, Slade is hired to find the missing son of the town's wealthiest entrepreneur--one Vladamir Prince. Prince is better known by his cinematic name--Dracula. But Slade's search for the missing teen gets sidetracked when his own best friend, a reporter, is murdered. The quest to find whodunit evolves into much more, including a secret which endangers the life of every citizen in Monster Town. That "danger" is taken right out of today's headlines, but
revealing it here would spoil the intrigue.

Along with the usual suspects one would expect from a monstrous lineup (Wolfman, Leech Woman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), comes the character of Kink. She's a fairy with a tarnished reputation, formerly a star of movies for kids, now ostracized from Hollywood and banished to Monster Town because of a sex scandal. She tags along with her friend Slade on occasion, stealing every scene she's in with her hilarious in-your-face personality.

Humor, however, especially satire, is tricky thing. Sometimes your take on it aligns with the author's, and sometimes you just don't get it. In this particular case, Monster Town worked for me, whether it was the often over-the-top narration or the hard-boiled clichés that were twisted just so.

Night crept over the city like it was slithering out of the grave. The storm had moved on and there was a stillness in the air that wasn’t altogether natural.
But I was in Monster Town, and strange was always on the menu.

Of course, what would a private dick be without a dangerous dame in his life. For Slade it's a torch singer who once was Wasp Woman. He
doesn't totally trust her, but he's smitten just the same.

It wasn't just her appearance that had changed. She came out of that bedroom with a whole different attitude. I could see it on her face—even in the way she carried herself. And a beautiful carriage it was. I watched her go to her kitchenette, thinking one thing hadn't changed. She was still wearing that body to die for. However, I wasn't ready for a cold slab in the morgue just yet.

Like any good gumshoe, Slade always has a snappy comeback to pull out of his trench coat.

When I got close, a couple of ragged-looking young toughs moved in front of me. One of them pulled a knife and said, "One more step and I'll stick you like a pig, then gut you like a fish."

"Make up your mind," I replied. "Am I pork or the catch of the day?"

The reason I believe this brand of satire works so well, is that the author doesn't do it so much with a sneer, as he does it with a tip of the fedora. He's not belittling these genres as much as he is paying them homage. My only complaint with the book is that it's too short. I wanted more.

Monster Town is fast-moving, full of brutish thugs and femme fatales, and funny in a way that may not have you laughing out loud, but will leave your inner self chuckling all the way to the last page. And, as Dirk Slade was often heard to say, that's jake with me. 

William Santorik has been a journalist for more than two decades, writing reviews for books, plays, films, and television, as well as other journalistic endeavors.

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