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.