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 Manning. Disciple 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 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 and Aspect-Emperor fantasy novels, but as he demonstrated with the thought-provoking crime thriller, Neuropath, this 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-eque 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.
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 play back 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 psychotic 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.
Disciple of the Dog is R. Scott Bakker’s second non-fantasy novel (after 2008’s Neuropath). While most fantasy readers are probably still most familiar with the author for his SECOND APOCALYPSE series, venturing out of the fantasy genre for this noir-ish detective novel is an excellent idea because it’s an entertaining and unique read that will keep you fascinated to the very end.
The novel’s two main attractions are its protagonist, Disciple (“Diss”) Manning, and its prose. As for the first, Disciple is a foul-mouthed, highly cynical, down-on-his-luck private detective with a unique ability: he is unable to forget anything he’s heard. Regardless (or thanks to) this gift (or curse), he is a grim, misanthropic serial womanizer who’d rather be brutally honest and say “oh well” later than compromise now. While cynical, jaded private eyes aren’t anything new, R. Scott Bakker takes things to an entirely new level here. Let’s just say that if you don’t enjoy books with unlikable main characters, Disciple of the Dog isn’t for you.
However, Disciple’s attitude leads directly to the second big strength of this novel: the prose. Disciple of the Dog sounds as if it’s narrated by the late, great George Carlin at his sharpest and darkest. Disciple’s observations are often incisive, very funny and painfully true. While the novel has a solid missing person/whodunnit plot, the true pleasure of reading it is the fact that there’s a quotable line on every page. Diss’s unique ability also leads to an interesting narrative device: he can “play back” conversations in his mind. As the plot develops, some of those earlier conversations take on new meanings or reveal additional details.
As for the plot: two distraught parents hire Disciple to look for their missing daughter, Jennifer Bonjour. Complicating the case is the fact that “Dead Jennifer” (as Diss affectionately calls her) was a member of a bizarre charismatic cult called the Framers, who believe that what we perceive as reality is actually an illusion, and that we live five billion years in our own future. Diss teams up with a journalist (after he tries to seduce her, of course) to investigate the cult and the circumstances of Jennifer’s disappearance.
In the end, Disciple of the Dog is more interesting as a look into the life and mind of Diss Manning than as an actual murder mystery, but the novel’s plot does have a few surprising twists that’ll keep you guessing until the very end. Thanks to Diss Manning’s dark but often funny tone, this book is simply a blast from start to finish. If you’re in the mood for a noir-ish detective novel with a fascinating, highly cynical main character, grab a copy of Disciple of the Dog.