Derrick Ferguson Hires HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE

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The hard-boiled private eye genre is one I dearly love. The trench-coated shamus with a cigarette dangling from his lip, .45 automatic or .38 revolver in a well-worn shoulder holster, fedora pulled down low over his forehead, the faithful gum-chewing secretary and even more faithful fifth of scotch in the desk drawer. Using his experience of having lived a tough life and insight into human nature to solve mysteries, not fancy computers and DNA. it’s a genre I never get enough of.  And since television and movies have apparently abandoned the P.I. it’s up to writers like Lee Houston, Jr. and books like HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE to give me my fix.

Let me explain; even though Hugh Monn lives and works on the far distant planet of Frontera interacting with many different species and using advanced technology, the tone and feel of the character and the eight stories in the book are pure 1950’s.  Lee drops in a mention here and there of some bit of sci-fi such as a character having green or purple skin or Hugh’s weapon of choice being a Nuke 653 Rechargeable but that’s just throwaways Lee lobs at us once in a while to remind us that we’re not on Earth.  But he doesn’t go into any real detail as to how this future civilization operates or how the technology works.  When the subject of detective stories crossed with science fiction comes up, I usually mention Larry Niven’s stories and novels about Gil The Arm or Roger Zelazny’s “My Name Is Legion” since in those stories, the science fiction is integral to the story.  Take out the science fiction and you wouldn’t have a story.  Not so with Lee’s Hugh Monn stories.  They could easily have been set in 1950’s Los Angeles or New York with a little rewriting.  But I digress…let’s take HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

Hugh Monn is a Human and yes, he freely admits to his clients that his name is a gag.  But one he prefers to use as he’s got some pretty big secrets in his past he’d prefer to keep to himself. As a detective, Hugh is capable, sharp, principled and dogged in his determination to solve his cases and get to the truth.  Hugh isn’t a pain-in-the-ass who rebels against authority and isn’t a lone wolf who doesn’t play by the rules.  Matter of fact, Hugh conducts himself as a total professional.  He doesn’t shoot when he doesn’t have to, he’s polite to everybody he meets and he co-operates with the authorities.  In particular, Lawbot 714 who he runs into in a couple of stories and who I wouldn’t mind seeing become a regular if Lee gives us more Hugh Monn cases.  He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, he likes kids; he holds open the doors for old ladies.  I think you can tell where I’m going with this.  Hugh’s a fine detective but as a character I found myself wishing that once in a while he’d haul off and slug a suspect for no good reason other than he doesn’t like the fact the guy has eight eyes.  Hugh could stand to be a little rougher and not so polite.

The story “Shortages” is a good example of how Hugh Monn solves a case using his understanding of both humans and aliens and his powers of observation.  It also introduces the character of Big Louie, a Primoid.  Big Louie is the main suspect in a series of thefts being committed at a high security pier.  It’s a pretty good locked room mystery and the relationship between Hugh and Big Louie is the primary attraction in this story, as in “At What Price Gloria?”  Hugh and Big Louie have to rescue Big Louie’s wife Gloria and stop an assassination attempt.  I only wish more of the stories had been as suspenseful as this one.  In some of them, the mystery really isn’t that hard to figure out as there’s a lack of suspects so the solution comes down to either being this one or that one.  And I never got a sense of Hugh being in any real danger in any of these stories.  But Lee should be commended for trying different types of stories such as “For The Benefit of Master Tyke” which hinges more on the healing of a family than the solving of any real crime.  I picked up halfway through “Where Can I Get A Witness?” is intended as a homage to the 1944 film noir “Laura” and I enjoyed it until the very last paragraph where it felt to me as if the writer had stepped in to give his opinion of his own story and didn’t allow his character to do so.

So should you read HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE?  As this was his first book, I’m inclined to give Lee a pat on the back. There’s a lot to like in his writing style.  He does know how to keep a story moving but he shouldn’t shy away from rolling in the dirt and giving his characters some sharp edges. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hugh Monn tackle some more cases but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Lee Houston, Jr. strip away the political correctness and explore the real darkness of Frontera.

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Derrick Ferguson Dons Cape and Cowl To Review USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY

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You know that old wheeze about as soon as a person comes into of a lot of money it changes them? I subscribe to a different theory. I think that acquiring a lot of money just makes you more of what you already are. If you were a generous, giving person before you became rich, chances are you’ll do more charity work with that money and help to make somebody’s world a little bit brighter. If you were an asshole before you became rich then the odds are that now that you have an AmEx Centurion card, you’re a raging asshole.

What has all this got to do with Mark Bosuquet’s superhero novel; USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY? Because most of the characters in his novel follow this principal, I think. Their superpowers just make them more of what they already are. Take our POV character, Jason Kitmore aka Kid Rapscallion. Orphaned at an early age and adopted by the superhero Rapscallion to be his sidekick he’s sexually abused (and not by whom you’re thinking of either) and he takes designer drugs to enhance his physical abilities in order to be a proper superhero. Is it any wonder as an adult, out on his own and no longer just a sidekick he becomes hooked on cocaine and kinky sex? As I got deeper into the novel and more of Jason’s personality was explored and revealed I realized what Mark was doing. In the hands of a lesser writer he would have let Jason off the hook and skewed us into feeling sorry for Jason, leading us to think that Jason never had a chance in life. But I don’t think that such is the case. I think that Jason Kitmore would have been a mightily screwed up individual without the sexual abuse, the drugs or the superpowers. Such is the strength of the voice of that character.

And that is what pulled me through USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY. The voices of the characters who are all so strong and so individual that I was actually hearing them in my head (that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should when I’m reading a book these days) with their own inflections and distinctive speech patterns. And since the book takes us inside Mark’s superhero community and shows us the people behind the costumes and superpowers it’s important that we know who’s talking as soon as they speak. And there was never a point where I had to go back and re-read a paragraph because I was confused as to who was saying what to whom.

Sure, this being a modern-day superhero novel there is an abundance of profanity, sex and drug use. But Mark isn’t using it to shock. And most certainly if you’ve been reading comic books for the past twenty years then I don’t think there’s anything here that you already haven’t seen. And to be honest, he explores certain aspects of superpower enhanced sex I’ve always wondered about (oh, come on…like you haven’t thought what the sex life of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel or Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman must be like) Especially the relationship between Kid Rapscallion and Duplication Girl which is…unique, to put it mildly.

Mark goes ahead and takes the risk of telling his story in the present tense and he jumps back and forth in time. I say risk because if you’re not willing to invest the time and let the story unfold the way it has to in order to get to where it and you has to go, then you’re going to get frustrated. And you shouldn’t. The disconnected chronology is the prose equivalent of how most people tell a story verbally. They jump around. They forget important points and have to go back to fill in those points. They emphasize and polish up their own behavior while misrepresenting the motives and behavior of others. Mark uses the technique quite well to build suspense at key points of the narrative, especially when the 9/11 terrorist attack happens and catches the superhero community totally by surprise and everybody scrambles around trying to cover their own asses.

Should you read USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY? If you’ve read Mark Bosuquet’s other works then I don’t have to give you the hard sell. You know his talents as a writer and you know that he delivers a solid piece of entertainment every time he steps up. If you’ve never read anything by Mark before I’d actually recommend you try “The Haunting of Kraken Moor” first but that’s because it’s my favorite thing he’s written so far. And I think it’s a good way to ease you into Mark’s style and his approach to storytelling. But hey, if you’re a superhero fan (and aren’t all of us superhero fans by now?) then you certainly won’t be wasting your time or your money with USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY.

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