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Monday, October 25, 2010

“Disciple of the Dog” by R. Scott Bakker (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “Disciple of the DogHERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: R. Scott Bakker is the author of The Prince of Nothing fantasy trilogy and the crime thriller, Neuropath (Reviewed HERE). The White Luck Warrior, the second volume in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy after The Judging Eye, will be published in 2011. 

PLOT SUMMARY: Imagine being able to remember everything you've ever experienced. This is the lonely world inhabited by Disciple Manning. He is able to recall every conversation, meeting and feeling he has ever had with 100% accuracy. It is more a curse than a blessing, but it makes Disciple a dangerous private investigator. So when Jonathan and Amanda Bonjour come into his office, Disciple knows immediately it’s about a missing child. 

He’s had many cases like this before, and they never end well. Accepting the case to find the Bonjour’s missing daughter, Disciple travels to Ruddick, Pennsylvania and to the compound of a charismatic cult known as the Framers, who believe that the world is more than five billion years older than it is and is about to be engulfed by the sun. 

In that very same town, a neo-Nazi religious organization calling themselves the Church of the Third Resurrection, has also taken root. Soon, Disciple’s investigation leads to clashes with the unsettling belief systems of both the cult and the church, leaving him fighting for survival and elusive answers before they are swallowed into a shadowy pool of secrets. Meanwhile, it is only a matter of time before the missing girl risks being abandoned forever to the depths of everyone's forgotten memories... 

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a first-person narrative drenched in cynicism, a noir-esque mystery to solve, and sarcastic humor, Disciple of the Dog is a contemporary private eye novel influenced by the classics, but stamped with R. Scott Bakker’s own unique flavor. 

FORMAT/INFO: Disciple of the Dog is 288 pages long divided over fourteen chapters (tracks) with titles like “One Hundred Thousand Cigarettes” and “The Law of Social Gravitation”. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the private investigator, Disciple ManningDisciple of the Dog is a standalone novel, but could easily be the first volume in a series of Disciple Manning books. 

November 23, 2010 marks the US Hardcover publication of Disciple of the Dog via Forge. The UK version (See image below) was published in both Hardcover and Trade Paperback format on September 16, 2010 via Orion, while the Canadian version was published on August 31, 2010 via Penguin Canada.

ANALYSIS: R. Scott Bakker may be best known for his Prince of Nothing/Aspect-Emperor fantasy novels, but as he demonstrated with the thought-provoking crime thriller, Neuropath, the author is no one trick pony. So I was pretty interested to see what R. Scott Bakker would do with his second non-fantasy book, Disciple of the Dog

In Disciple of the Dog, R. Scott Bakker tackles the private eye genre, delivering a novel that is at once familiar because of the first-person narrative, cynical protagonist, the noir-esque mystery and sarcastic humor, but still unique because of the character, Disciple Manning, and his extraordinary ability: “The thing to remember about me is that I don’t forget . . . Anything. Ever. It all comes back, endlessly repeating, circumstances soaked in passion. Love. Terror. Disgust. A life crushed in the wheels of perpetual living.” Thanks to his unique ability of remembering everything, Disciple Manning is instantly different from other fictional private investigators, and, in my opinion, much more interesting. 

For one, his ability offers a logical explanation for why he’s such a cynical individual. It also explains his love for women—but why he can never have a lasting relationship—why he hates people, and why he’s a “chronic weed smoker”. But his ability does more than just add insight into his character; it infuses Disciple Manning’s personality with a fascinating individuality that is present throughout the novel. Like knowing the exact number of cigarettes he’s smoked or the number of women he’s slept with (558); how he’s seen the same facial expressions so many times that he’s given them titles such as Classic Feminine Disgust, Atypical Bewildered Fury, or High Pity; and how he can playback a past conversation—what Disciple calls “postconversation reveries”—to capture nuances and details that he missed the first time. 

Best of all, Disciple Manning’s ability gives him a unique perspective on life which he expresses through a variety of compelling monologues, observations and “pearls of cynical wisdom”: “One of the great paradoxes of being human has got to be the way the past is as much at the mercy of the present as the present is at the mercy of the past. As soon as we ziplock something in memory, it becomes static, something that we can run circles around. Considered from this standpoint, it really does seem that everything we do is fraught with decisions, as if every moment were a window onto thousands of future possibilities, instead of automatic and obscure.” “If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s giving us roles to play. Everyone loves to pretend they’re in a movie, no matter where you go in the world. Good thing, too. If it wasn’t movies, then it would be some pyschotic legend from the Middle Ages—or worse yet, scripture.” “Rule one of all private investigating is that everyone, but everyone, is full of shit.” 

Of course, Disciple Manning would not be nearly as interesting if not for R. Scott Bakker’s writing, which is just superb in this book, and reminded me of a cross between Charlie Huston, Dean Koontz, Mike Carey, Chuck Palahniuk, and Duane Swierczynski. In other words, readers should expect a skillfully written novel brimming with sharp dialogue and humor, vivid prose, and convincing characterization, although I would love to learn more about Disciple’s past (military, prison, suicide attempts) if Bakker ends up writing another Disciple Manning novel. 

True to form, the book also features some of R. Scott Bakker’s trademark philosophical observations on everything from religion to society to life. Compared to Neuropath however, Disciple of the Dog is much more accessible to readers. While Disciple Manning and the writing are excellent, the story leaves a little to be desired. Though skillfully handled, the plot twists and red herrings were underwhelming, while the major revelations at the end just felt anticlimactic. Plus, the novel seemed to drag when the book focused more on the story than on Disciple and his various insights, “postconversation reveries”, and “cynical wisdom”. 

Also, Disciple of the Dog is not what I would call a ‘page-turner’, full of heart-pumping action and thrilling cliffhangers, even though the book is one that readers can breeze through quickly. Aside from these minor shortcomings, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Disciple of the Dog. R. Scott Bakker’s writing was riveting, Disciple Manning was fascinating, and the book left me wanting more. So hopefully this isn’t the end of Disciple Manning, because the unique private investigator deserves to have his own series...


Anonymous said...

weird. bakker is always known for his heavy writing style in fantasy.

Robert said...

Anonymous, I think with Disciple of the Dog and Neuropath, Bakker is trying to challenge himself as a writer, so the books are different from what you might expect from the author, but still recognizable to his fans...


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