A Working-Class Monster Hunter Saves The WorldS

A working stiff who collects cryptobiological specimens and keeps them from menacing the hapless citizenry encounters a mundane woman who weird stuff constantly happens to. A. Lee Martinez's Monster feels like a sillier version of Joss Whedon's Angel.

Monster's main character, also named Monster, is a sad-sack human who responds to 911 calls that involve trolls, kobolds, ancient Japanese demons and other weird creatures that intrude into our world and threaten to upset the delicate balance of our society. He's been bitten by a weird creature, so now he changes colors every time he falls asleep, and each color gives him a different, usually useless, ability. His sidekick is a paper gnome named Chester, from another dimension, and his girlfriend is an evil succubus from Hell.

Monster's content (more or less) to drift through his life, never actually taking the initiative, until he meets Judy, a convience store worker. Like almost all humans, Judy's unaware of the existence of magic, and when she sees it, she soon forgets it afterwards. Except that Judy is some kind of magic magnet, and weird creatures and bizarre apparitions pop up wherever she goes. Judy and Monster are forced to team up to discover the reason for her weird creature infestation, and they stumble on a plot to erase the very human race from existence.

Martinez is known for his zippy, jaunty books — last year's The Automatic Detective was a fun read — and Monster is no exception. It's fun and silly, and you'll probably read it in one sitting. The parade of goat monsters, yeti and walrus dogs keeps the action moving, and both Monster and Judy are appealingly shlubby heroes, who just want to get on with their lives but keep getting tangled up in crazy mishaps. Like in this passage, where they face a walrus dog from Greenland in a greasy diner:

He completed the rune, satisfied it would do the trick.

"Now what?" she asked.

"Now I throw this at it, freeze it in a block of ice. I make the world safe for greasy-diner-goers everywhere, and get a few bucks for my trouble."

"You said it's from Greenland, right?"

"Yes."

"Well, isn't Greenland the one with all the ice? What if it doesn't freeze?"

"Actually, Iceland is the one with all the ice," he said.

"No, it isn't."

Monster spoke through a tightly clenched jaw. "It doesn't matter. Even if Greenland is the one with the ice — which it isn't because that would make no goddamn sense — this isn't regular ice. This is magic ice."

The banter between Monster and Judy, with Chester the paper gnome jumping in every now and then, is usually pretty engaging. And Monster's relationship with his evil sex-starved diva girlfriend, who's actually really evil, is a fun running subplot.

You get just enough of the weird workings of this magical universe to keep it intriguing — magic is everywhere, but most humans are "incognizants" or, if they're lucky, "light incognizants," who can just barely perceive magic but can't remember it. It's as if we're the butt of a great cosmic joke.

Sadly there's one area where Monster falls flat, and that's the overall plot. As long as it's the story of two lovable losers grappling with an infestation of supernatural creatures, it's a fun read. But the novel's overarching plot slowly rears it's head, supported by a huge superstructure of infodumps and limp exposition. There's a woman named Lotus who's billions of years old, and Monster and Judy are pawns in her game of universal domination, sort of. The more the story becomes about Lotus and her naughty power-mad ways, the less interesting it gets, and the more Martinez feels the need to tell the reader instead of showing. The plot only really kicks into high gear in the last third of the book, but it feels like a colossal let-down.

All in all, Monster manages to be a fun ride — but only as an inconsequential diversion. When it tries to have a larger plot, or more significant suddenly it runs out of gas.