three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Matt Ruff
user_rating: 
0

A-Bad MonkeysJane Charlotte sits in the crazy person’s interrogation room in the Las Vegas County Jail, accused of murder and confessing to her association with The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons. In this secret crime-fighting organization, otherwise known as Bad Monkeys, members use special ray guns to kill evil people and make their deaths look natural. But as Jane Charlotte confesses, her very identity comes into question. As her outrageous tale of abuse, drugs, murder, vigilante justice, and her tragic younger brother Phil unfolds, is she just being a delusional sociopath—or is she part of a larger, mind-bending game?
HarperCollins. 240 pages. $20. ISBN: 0061240419

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"There are also some exciting and hallucinatory action sequences that are so skillfully written I felt as if I was watching the first Matrix movie, which I unabashedly loved. … I wasn’t able to solve this book’s riddles before the end, but I had a lot of fun guessing, trying to unravel it all, racing against the clock." Jonathan Ames

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Fans of both Philip K. Dick and television’s ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ will appreciate the way Ruff riffs on the familiar good cop/bad cop Q&A scenario and opens it up to encompass elements from the most outré conspiracy theories. … This is a highly satisfying speculative thriller, intricate, unpredictable and frequently laugh-out-loud funny." Michael Berry

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Jane’s] life is a bundle of self-deception and misdirection, which Ruff wraps inside so many ingenious fake-out layers that readers will find their heads spinning with awed delight by the book’s frenetic climax." Paul Di Filippo

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It isn’t every author who can craft a thriller that is familiar enough to be comforting and new enough to offer genuine surprise. … In spite of a dramatic Matrix-style showdown in Las Vegas, the battle between good and evil really comes down to Jane Charlotte and the psychiatrist locked together in that little white room." Katie Schneider

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"A topsy-turvy take-off on secret agent fiction, a fantastical funhouse ride with a juiced-up, hyper-speed narrative that rushes hither and yon through a host of surprises, feints, false starts, murders, meltdowns, double and triple crosses. … It’s a fine line that Ruff has tried to skate with this ambitious novel, mixing sendup with satire with fantasy, but even his considerable talents are not sufficient to avoid a disappointing face-plant by the end." John Marshall

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Take away the gimmicks and Bad Monkeys is a pedestrian thriller." Edward Champion

Critical Summary

Matt Ruff’s fourth novel, a speculative thriller and takeoff on secret agent fiction, is clever, highly imaginative, fast-paced, hallucinatory, and even maniacal. It’s also a satirical (and somewhat philosophical) riff on American society, good versus evil, and reality versus illusion. Jane Charlotte, who proves to be a totally unreliable (but intriguing) narrator, had critics guessing about her—and the Bad Monkeys—until the very end. While Bad Monkeys has whiffs of Philip K. Dick, G. K. Chesterton, Brian Azzarello, and Thomas Pynchon, a few critics thought that without Ruff’s crazy tricks (which some thought too preposterous), Bad Monkeys would be a ho-hum novel. The verdict: extra suspension of disbelief required.