Looking for a novel that will mess with your mind and have you wondering just who the crazy person really is? Looking for a science-fiction tale worthy of Philip K. Dick, but friendlier?
Then you might be looking for "Bad Monkeys" ($20 in paperback from HarperCollins) by Matt Ruff. (A smaller paperback version is due from Harper in August, but you really won't want to wait.)
When I wrote Ruff asking for some kind of Chico connection, he was kind enough to reply: "Sadly, I’ve never been to Chico, though I’ve probably flown over it at least once or twice. However, I do note that San Francisco is pretty close, and not only does Jane hail from there, but I’m sure she’d have been happy to come up your way and kill somebody if only the opportunity had presented itself."
"Jane" is Jane Charlotte and when we first meet her it is 2002 and "she is dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit," waiting. A man enters the white room Jane is in and introduces himself as "Dr. Vale." "Do you know where you are?" he asks.
She answers: "Unless they moved the room . . . . Las Vegas, Clark County Detention Center. The nut wing."
"And do you know why you're here?" "I'm in jail because I killed someone I wasn't supposed to."
But this is no straightforward crime novel. Dr. Vale notes that Jane claims to be part of a "secret crime-fighting organization called Bad Monkeys." Well, not quite. "We don't fight crime," Jane corrects Dr. Vale, "we fight evil. There's a difference. And Bad Monkeys is the name of my division. . . . The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons."
As Ruff fills in Jane's back story, we learn of the NC Gun, which kills using "natural causes"; the convoluted history of her brother, Phil; Jane's tracking of an evil janitor; the Scary Clowns (who "consider Las Vegas to be their fiefdom"), another secret and rival organization; guys named Wise and True; and a mysterious coin bearing the slogan "Omnes Mundum Facimus," "we all make the world."
Indeed, as Churchill said of Russia, "Bad Monkeys" is a "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." You'll go ape.