The first thing you notice about Bad Monkeys is the lurid yellow cover, the inkblot Mandrill logo and the funky size of the book, sort of a narrower but taller trade paperback. The second thing you notice is that it’s now 12am and you’ve just spent the entire evening reading and finishing Bad Monkeys in one go. Given the amount of time I have to actually read, I was astounded that I managed that feat. Bad Monkeys is that good. This is the first book in years that I just couldn’t put down. From the opening page, I was hooked on the story of Jane Charlotte and her work for the ‘Bad Monkeys’ department of a shadowy ‘organization’.
As you can imagine, the story moves very quickly. Jane is caught by the police for murdering a man because he was evil and now she has to explain herself to a police psychologist. Alternating between scenes of the past and scenes from the present, Ruff weaves an incredibly interesting, funny and clever story in about 240 pages. It seems that the ‘organization’ fights evil in the world, not crime. Their main foe currently is ‘The Troop’, whose logo is the Mandrill on the cover. The Troop seems dedicated to expanding evil in the world, while the organization fights against them, in a pseudo Cold Shadow War. These covert actions occur everywhere, but most people are oblivious to them as the people involved seem to have a knack for not being seen, even when death and destruction is raining down. If I were to ding the book on anything, it would be that there really is no backstory on the organization, how they came into being and why. Ruff does hint at what might be going on, but I won’t spoil that for you. In fact, I can’t really go into much detail without spoiling much of the book. The details are what make Bad Monkeys the best book I’ve read this year.
What I can say is that Bad Monkeys is really the story of Jane Charlotte and her life. And what an interesting story it is too. As a narrator, Jane is sarcastically funny, and her interactions with the psychologist are a hoot. Even when dealing with the most outrageous or macabre events, she tends to take everything in stride and little phases her. The revelations about Jane Charlotte and those around her take several sharp turns at the end and, depending on whether you’ve bought into the book or not, you’ll either like it or hate it. For me, everything fit right in with the Cold War espionage feel of the book. And, really, how can you not like a book about an organization with department names like: The Department of Ubiquitous Intermittent Surveillance (Panopticon), The Department for Optimal Utilization of Resources and Personnel (Cost-Benefits), The Department for Optimal Utilization of Resources and Personnel (Bad Monkeys), and The Scary Clowns. Yes, Scary Clowns. And you learn why. Awesome. The events are sometimes brutal, but its almost always funny in unusual ways. Ruff has a knack for making just about anything amusing.
If I were to say anything more it would be: Quit reading this and go get Bad Monkeys! But, if you’re still here, you can read the first chapter online at Matt Ruff’s website. Do so, you’re in for a treat.