It’s 2001, and Luce Delgado, homicide detective for the Las Vegas PD, has come to a casino on the strip to deal with a celebrity murder. Dead, “Dr. M,” manager of the hottest boy-band act on the planet, the WyldBoyZ. Suspects? There are plenty, but her top five are the brilliantly harmonizing human/other-mammalian hybrid band members, the Boyz themselves. The challenge? A locked room on the fifty-sixth floor of the casino hotel.
Almost equally important to Luce is her attempt to keep from breaking the heart of the WyldBoyZ’s number one fan — Luce’s nine-year-old daughter Melanie.
Published in 2021, Daryl Gregory’s latest novella, The Album of Dr. Moreau, is a locked room mystery that pokes fun at mysteries, at fans, at boy bands and at H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Behind the puzzles, the puns and the one-liners lives a deeply touching, emotional story. I stayed up too late to read this in one sitting, and it never disappointed.
Gregory plays with the trope of the boy band and its “types;” There’s Tusk, the Smart One, who is part elephant; Bobby, part ocelot, is the Cute One, Tim, part pangolin, is the Shy One; Matt the Bat is the Funny One; and Devin, part bonobo, is the Sexy One (although honestly, I’m not sure he’s as sexy as he thinks he is).
Secondary characters, from the victim’s polished, tough-as-nails widow, to Delgado’s partner Banks, the king of puns, and Rudolpho the hotel manager, are distinct. Half of the fun of Banks’s puns came from Delgado’s repeated attempts to fend them off, to no avail.
Underneath the smart investigating and the satirical humor is a well of darkness. The Boyz have never said where they came from, but they share horrific memories of a repurposed ship where the experiments that resulted in them took place. Music and song saved them — they hope it’s saving them now by making them too famous for someone to disappear them, or suck them up into a government or corporate lab. In the time-honored tradition of murder mysteries with bands, the manager was ripping them off, and the band was fighting back with a threatened lawsuit. In his final hours Dr. M made a threat to the Boyz that implied he held something very serious over their heads.
It shouldn’t be necessary by this point in the review, but just in case, a word of warning. This story is not science fiction in the sense that it’s not about how human hybrids can be created or sustained. Gregory does explain the origin of the Boyz, but not in a scientific way, and he doesn’t explain the origin of that origin. As the title tells you, it’s not that kind of a book.
The Album of Dr. Moreau is short and fast-paced, with music woven through every chapter. The structure is that of a playlist, with song-title chapter headings. Other relationships, like Delgado’s with her daughter, and her with her sister Maria, are beautiful, with descriptions that are funny and surprising:
The game between the Delgado sisters had been going on for so long it was like playing poker with all the cards showing.
I started this in the evening and stayed up later than I meant to, because I didn’t want to put it down. I picked it up the next morning and leafed through it again, rereading the parts I liked the best.
The Album of Dr. Moreau is a perfect book for mystery lovers, music lovers, magic lovers, H.G. Wells fans and people who like reading about how family, however it’s defined, can help us get through almost anything.