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Club Monstrosity by Jesse Petersen

Thursday, May 16, 2013
Synopsis: Undetected in the modern world and under pressure to stay that way, Natalie Grey, Dracula, Bob the Blob, and others (including the fetching wolfman Alec) meet regularly to talk about the pressures of being infamous in the Big Apple. Topics include how long it’s been since their last sighting, how their “story” creates stereotypes they can’t fulfill, and—gasp—sometimes even their feelings. But when their pervy Invisible Man, Ellis, is killed in a manner reminiscent of the H.G. Wells novel, it’s clear someone’s discovered their existence and is down for some monster busting.

Led by Natalie—and definitely not helped by Hyde’s bloodthirsty tendencies—the members of Monstofelldosis Anonymous band together for security and a little sleuthing. And maybe—maybe—if they don’t end up dead, they’ll end up friends somewhere along the way.

Review: The one ever-present trap for authors who have written novels with devilishly clever premises and characters is that some of them are so tickled by how clever their stories are, they spend seemingly endless pages praising themselves for being so clever by trying to create more cleverness where it previously happened so naturally. So much, and then those novels fall apart, promise lost.

Jesse Petersen doesn’t have that problem in any section of Club Monstrosity. She innately understands that while you may have a clever premise, you can’t crow about it. You have to make it work, and it takes time and precious skill to make it seem run-of-the-mill, in a good way, though. If you make it seem like a daily routine, then there’s more of a chance of readers believing the fantastical. And there’s a lot to believe in her New York City. Namely that monsters exist.

Do you remember Frankenstein’s Monster? Dracula? The Wolfman? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Swamp Thing? The Blob? The Mummy? Well, maybe not that Mummy, or, well, maybe yes. Kai is vague about that, but it doesn’t sound like it’s deliberate.

They’re all here, hundreds of years later, and earlier than that, since the times in which we knew them. Frankenstein’s Monster is Natalie Gray, who’s just trying to live normally, pay rent, do well enough at her job as the city medical examiner’s assistant, and, oh yes, get through the monster meetings held in a basement room of Holy Heart Church on East 125th Street. It’s an actual church. Nothing created out of thin air by any of these monsters. They couldn’t do that anyway lest they call attention to themselves and no one wants that. Not Alec, who has enough trouble going through dozens upon dozens of razors to keep secret the fact that he’s a werewolf. Not Bob the Blob, the leader of this group, who sounds like the most levelheaded one of the group, besides Natalie, and especially the kindest. Not Drake, who used to go by Dracula, and transforms with a poof into a bat at the most inconvenient times. Not Linda, neurotic Linda, who gets so worked up that she scratches at her hands, revealing her scales. And definitely not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, brothers with a psychic connection, with Jekyll being Hyde’s weak moral compass, though that’s more because of Hyde’s wicked nature. Jekyll keeps him just barely under control. Just.

As if it isn’t enough to feel gleeful over the endless fun of reading about these famous monsters living in our time, Petersen proves her geek credentials right away with descriptions not only of what these monsters are like today, but what they’ve been doing since when we’ve known them to exist. She keeps it all suitably vague at times, saving some material for the inevitable and most welcome sequel, which will be out in July under the title The Monsters in Your Neighborhood. But the thrust of the story comes from one of their own, and then two of their own, being murdered. Who knows about them? And how do they know about them? Suddenly, Natalie has to turn detective with the help of Alec, Linda, and the others to figure out what’s happening and how it might affect them. It’s dangerous, but it’s a desperate time. They have to do this.

The sheer pleasure of Club Monstrosity is in the discovery, such as learning that Natalie was alive at the time of the Civil War, but not stateside for it. And then there are amusing little touches such as Alex using pot to help keep himself calm before the full moon.

Petersen doesn’t feel the need to be too broad in order to reach a wider audience. She knows that her readers will be the ones who either know enough about Frankenstein’s Monster, or werewolves, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dracula to come in and see what she has cooked up. Or they’ll be the ones who know a little and are curious to know more. For those readers, Petersen provides them with just a few, necessary details about who these monsters are and what makes them famous, and then moves on with the story. They’re not page-long explanations. Rather, they’re expertly woven into what’s going on, which makes the storytelling all the more impressive. And it’s that storytelling laced with well-played dry humor that fits the tone that makes me want to try reading Dracula by Bram Stoker again, despite already having tried it three times with no success.

There’s a potential series of novels by former White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace, beginning with Eighteen Acres and continuing with It’s Classified, chronicling the tumultuous administration of Republican president Charlotte Kramer that has made me excited about the possibility of Wallace building an empire of presidential fiction, with how easily she references previous also-fictional administrations. Petersen has the same effect on me. She has the chance to build her own empire of “urban fantasy,” as she labels her work on her website, including the “Living with the Dead” series, about an estranged couple in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. She makes me just as excited as I am about Wallace’s novels, impatiently waiting for her promised third one. Petersen’s going to do this. I can feel it. She’s going to take that chance and not only keep happy those who love monster novels and monster movies, but make them scream for more, possibly with torches and pitchforks. I’m not as much into monsters, but Petersen makes me feel the same way. Sequels now, please. Quickly.

Review by: Rory

Rating: 4/5 DIAMONDS
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