Disciple of the Dog: Brimming with sharp dialogue and humor

book review R. Scott Bakker Disciple of the Dogbook review R. Scott Bakker Disciple of the DogDisciple of the Dog by R. Scott Bakker

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 — (2010) Publisher: A crime thriller from an acclaimed master of speculative fiction. “And you wonder why I’m cynical. I’ve literally ‘seen it all before.’ The truth is we all have, every single one of us past the age of, say, twenty-five. The only difference is that I remember.” No matter how hard he drinks, gambles, or womanizes, Disciple Manning simply cannot forget: not a word spoken, not an image glimpsed, not a pain suffered. Disciple Manning has total recall. Whatever he hears, he can remember with 100% accuracy. He can play it back in his head for an infinite number of times without a single change. This ability makes him a dangerously unorthodox private investigator. When a New Jersey couple hires Manning to find their daughter, who joined a religious cult before vanishing in a small rust-belt town called Ruddick, he finds himself embroiled in a mystery that will pit his unnatural ability to remember against his desperate desire to forget.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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  1. I think its always interesting to see an author who associated with a particular genre to write a book in a different genre.
    I could be wrong but it seems like to me that fantasy authors usually stay within that realm more so then authors of other genres. Or maybe more of them are using pseudonyms?

  2. I feel the same way you do Greg. In fact, I wish more authors would write outside of the genres they are known for. I think it makes them better writers :) As far as pseudonyms, I’m sure some authors use them when trying out new stuff. Daniel Abraham immediately comes to mind…

  3. Well I know that James Clemens who wrote The Banned and the Banished and also The Godslayer Chronicles is also James Rollins the author of the bestselling thriller series Sigma Force.
    But Stephen King’s Eye of the Dragon is one of my all time favorite stand-alone fantasy books. In fact, I think Stephine King’s best books are not his horror books.
    I could be wrong, but I think it used to be a lot more common place for authors to just write whatever they felt like instead if sticking to one genre.

  4. Ah, I can’t believe I didn’t think about James Rollins/James Clemens! Rollins is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read all of the Clemens novels. Funny enough, James Rollins is a pen name as well ;) I also forgot about Robin Hobb and Kate Elliott which are both pseudonyms. And then there’s Robert Jordan…

    I’ve never read Stephen King’s Eye of the Dragon, but I agree that his best stuff is non-horror. I personally love the Dark Tower novels and The Green Mile…

    I think anymore, when authors are published in a certain genre such as fantasy, science fiction or horror, they are immediately branded as a ‘genre’ writer, and to branch out into other genres, publishers feel it would be better if they do so with a different name, so audiences don’t automatically make assumptions. Or so I’m speculating ;)

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