A fantastic science fictional twist on detective fiction and pop culture
It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?
Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began — a place they used to call home.
It feels like a long time since I last read something by Gregory. I’ve enjoyed his work ever since I read Afterparty. He has a great writing and storytelling style. This new novella is a fantastic read: an intriguing, inventive science-fiction twist on detective fiction and pop culture. I really enjoyed this.
One quick aside: As I have neither read the book, nor seen the movie adaptation, I wondered how closely this novella was linked to The Island of Dr. Moreau. Turns out, not particularly — someone at one point makes a comment about the band’s manager taking his name from the H.G. Wells story, and there is a clear influence in some of the story aspects, but you do not have to have read Wells’s story in order to enjoy or follow Gregory’s.
The novella opens with T.S. Elliott’s “Five Rules of Detective Fiction”, taken from his 1927 omnibus review of nine Wilkie Collins mystery novels. They’re quite strict rules, and while they do appear somewhat sensible, if your intent is to write a truly realistic, utterly grounded in reality mystery story… it becomes quite clear that Gregory has a rather different intent. In fact, he goes on to break each of the rules — and quite brilliantly, in my opinion.
The Album of Dr. Moreau is a locked room mystery featuring a cast of incredible characters. First, we have the human-hybrids who make up the WyldBoyZ band, each of whom has a distinct character (strengths and flaws), and the author does an excellent job of quickly giving us an idea of who they are, what they want, and what their interpersonal relationships are. As the novella unfolds, we learn more about the band members and their past, as well as the situation they are in at present.
Then we have Detective Lucia Delgado and her partner, Detective Mickey Banks. They have a good and easy working relationship, they’re both dedicated to their jobs. Delgado is the primary, with the better skills at deduction and critical thinking, with Banks seemingly happy to take the secondary role and wait for Delgado to figure something out (not that he isn’t capable in his own right). Delgado is a single mother, whose daughter is obsessed with the WyldBoyZ. This makes investigating the band, and the potential for one of them being a murderer, a rather delicate exercise for the detective.
Finally, we have the myriad hangers-on and peripheral band-employees. They’re another colourful cast of characters, including the now-murdered manager, his wife, and the band’s most ardent fans, the “Zoomies”/”Zoomandos”. (Another quick aside: Gordon the gopher. Very amusing.) These characters give us a little bit more insight into what the band is like, and also what life is like for a successful boy band — i.e., exhausting, years on the road, plenty of opportunities for mischief and indulgence, strange hangers-on, and so forth.
The Album of Dr. Moreau contains all the hallmarks of a Daryl Gregory work: gentle humour sprinkled throughout, excellent pacing, engaging and well-realized characters, very well-composed writing, and an expertly crafted plot. As it’s a novella featuring a boy band — albeit, a rather unique one — the novella also includes some amusing commentary on pop music, band rivalries, and more. (And also a well-used “Oops, I did it again.”) There is also some good examination of mysteries, too.
I really enjoyed this: it’s clever, fun, and very well-written. While the novella does have a clear and definite ending, I’d nevertheless be interested in reading more stories featuring Delgado — given that she’s an LVPD detective, one assumes Las Vegas would be a great place to locate a crime/mystery series with a difference. (Also, I just really like Gregory’s writing and stories, so I’m always keen to read more of it.)
A must read novella. Very highly recommended.
Also on CR: Interview with Daryl Gregory (2017)