REVIEW: Madhouse by Rob Thurman
Dear Ms. Thurman,
I can’t remember exactly how I first discovered your books. When your first novel, Nightlife, came out a couple years ago, I dismissed it as just another straight urban fantasy. We already have Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green for that. Then I read a couple favorable blog reviews that made it sound interesting and I decided to give it a try. And am I glad I did. Nightlife entertained me, its sequel Moonshine hooked me, and this third book Madhouse might have inspired a little dance when it arrived on my doorstep.
Caliban Leandros is half monster — Auphe, to be precise, which are not happy, little elves or beautiful, mysterious fae. They’re sadistic, bloodthirsty monsters from hell. Literally. He and his (fully human) brother Niko have been running from them since they were kids because the Auphe specifically bred Cal as their key to transforming the world into their own personal playground. The Leandros brothers have since stopped them from succeeding, and now they’ve done the one thing they swore they’d never do: They’ve put down roots.
They currently run a preternatural detective agency in New York City, their clientele consisting of denizens from the supernatural world. Unfortunately, work is slow and money is scarce so Cal works as a bartender at a bar that caters to non-human patrons and Niko works as a teaching assistant at a nearby college.
Then they get their latest case. The notorious cannibal Sawney Beane has been resurrected from the dead and he’s up to his old tricks — murdering and eating people and leaving bloody corpses in his wake. Two minor complications: Sawney Beane was never human in the first place and this time, he’s recruited a small army of revenants to help him. On top of that, the brothers have to contend with someone trying to kill their friend Robin, and Cal has to cope with his starcrossed relationship with neighborhood psychic Georgina.
There’s no point hiding it. I think the Leandros brothers are hot. They wield guns, serrated daggers, swords, and axes. I think if you love the Winchester boys of Supernatural, there’s a good chance you will love the Leandros brothers of Thurman’s books. The relationship between Niko and Cal is one of my favorite aspects of the series. Niko practically raised Cal because their mother was negligent at best, outright abusive at worst, and Cal owes a lot to his brother, even if he mostly shows his gratitude through his trademark sarcasm:
Niko Leandros. He had been one of those who disappeared on me, even if only temporarily. As brothers went, he was a good one, despite a horrifying obsession with health food, meditation, and things generally not revolving around pizza and beer. But we all have our crosses to bear… Mine was to be smacked when I wasn’t with the program, and his was to be overeducated, to be as self-aware as the Dalai Lama, and to keep my ass alive. Poor bastard.
As with previous books, one of Madhouse‘s strengths is Cal’s narrative voice, which is never anything less than sardonic. Another strength is the dialogue, which is just as sharp and depending on your sense of humor, hysterical:
“Happy? I’m happy.” I bared my teeth in a fixed grin. “See? Happy.”
“Gods save us. I haven’t seen an expression like that since Medusa went through menopause.” Robin Goodfellow dropped on a stool and shook his head. “Quick. Brandy before you destroy my will to live with your catastrophically bad temper.”
“Catastrophic temper?” I reached for the good stuff I kept under the bar just for Robin. A hundred years old, it was still barely fetal in age to his point of view. Yet another mystery: why Ish would stock it for him. “Come on.”
“Kid, everything about you is catastrophic. Your temper, your fighting skills, your attitude, and let’s not even discuss your look. Simply put on the eyeliner and join the rest of the Children of the Night knockoffs at the local Goth bar.”
Another thing I enjoyed was Sawney Beane. I realize how that sounds — I liked the cannibal? But for an antagonist that is undeniably evil, not once did I find him cardboard. I thought he was a lunatic, nasty, and deliciously entertained by his kills. That’s one of the traits I like about these books. The monsters are allowed to be monsters and when they show their teeth and claws, they don’t hold back. For example, Cal ends up losing a chunk of flesh to Sawney in a confrontation when the redcap bites him. I also like the fact that, in addition to the genre staples of vampires and werewolves, Thurman uses monsters not commonly seen in urban fantasy novels such redcaps, revenants, sirrushes, and boggles. There’s even a grosteque version of Black Annis.
On the down side, I had high hopes for Robin’s subplot. Robin is such a mysterious character, and he’s so long-lived you can’t wonder how he ended up a used car salesman. Unfortunately, the resolution of his storyline disappointed me. In retrospect, I would have been more satisfied had Robin been more responsible for the incident that led to the centuries-old retribution rather than it simply being a terrible coincidence and a result of his arrogant negligence. That said, I anticipate the possibility of a romantic storyline for Robin. I think it’ll be interesting to see what a “human lover” like Robin will do, given that the candidate is not human at all.
As for the Cal and George relationship, I alternate between understanding Cal’s perspective and wanting to shake some sense into him. If this were the main focus of the series, I suspect Cal’s determination to keep George safe from his Auphe heritage and to end the hybrid Auphe bloodline by having no children (the Auphe are frighteningly fertile so normal methods of contraception are unlikely to work) would drive me insane. Fortunately, it’s a minor storyline so I don’t have the opportunity to fixate on it as much. I still believe George would be good for him and don’t care for the choice he ultimately made but Cal has some more growing up to do first, and that’s sure to come given what happens in this book.
Without fail, the Cal Leandros books always end with a line that leaves me wanting more and that’s no exception here. As I said in the beginning of this review, the Leandros have done something they’ve never done before by putting down roots. Considering the note Madhouse ends on, I expect the repercussions of that choice will be brought up in future books. This reader can only hope so. B+
This book can be purchased in mass market. No ebook format found. This book’s official release date is February 26, 2008.