The Album of Dr. Moreau
By Daryl Gregory
Tor.com — May 2021
ISBN: 9781947879331 — Paperback — 176 pp.
Have you long been searching for a short science fiction / murder mystery read, packed with humor and meta winks, featuring a Boy Band of eccentric, genetically-engineered, human-animal hybrids?
Well, you should be now. Immediately.
It may surprise you, but I hadn’t either. Boy Bands were never my thing, and my musical tastes are not now – nor have they ever been – particularly mainstream. I also have never read The Island of Dr. Moreau. I watched the movie with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer back at its release, but don’t really remember any details of it. Or I’ve blocked them out. I know the gist of the story though, and could sing you Oingo Boingo’s “No Spill Blood”. That’s about it.
I am a fan of murder mysteries though. And science fiction. And I think I’ve enjoyed, if not loved, all the short fiction by Daryl Gregory that I’ve read over the years in magazines. So, though I was never looking for this book, and the premise didn’t sound that tempting, I gave it a try. I am so thankful that I did.
Gregory succeeds phenomenally well here with the mashup of classic mystery and classic science fiction riffs, tying it all together with a tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted noir tone (oxymoron intended) that pulls readers in to simply enjoy the ride. He play with every element, even the murder mystery one by breaking all five of T.S. Eliot’s rules for effective, proper detective fiction.
So, I should summarize the plot a bit before rambling on…
Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has the difficult task of solving the murder of Dr. M, the producer behind 2001’s hottest boy band, the WyldBoyZ. The five genetically-engineered members of this vocal group are Delgado’s prime suspects. She begins to interview each of them: Bobby the ocelot (the ‘cute’ one), Matt the megabat (the ‘funny’ one), Tim the pangolin (the ‘shy’ one), Devin the bonobo (the ‘romantic’ one), and Tusk the elephant (the ‘smart’ one). Through the band members and others involved in their entourage, Delgado (and the reader) learn of the egos, talents, foibles, fractures, and traumas that underlie the band’s history and success.
Gregory brings the characters alive, absurd as they are, to make the reader actually invested in them each, as if one were fans of the band. He makes the mystery plot engaging, paced perfectly to allow the reader to get to know all the suspects, revealing bits that can lead the reader to figure some likelihoods out, but still nailing the eventual culprit reveal. He pays homage to a classic, while also inventing the story in a fun, interesting way.
Through that all, Gregory lets his love of music shine, crafting a story that is equally faux documentary of a band’s history and personalities, like a literary This Is Spın̈al Tap. The humor is on-point, but never gets silly or infantile. It becomes grounded in the serious nature of the psychologies of the band members.
The critique of celebrity and themes surrounding the cost of fame, and the humanization of idols, is nothing new to The Album of Dr. Moreau. but mix that with the the themes of H.G. Wells novel in a murder mystery framework, and all the familiar elements that make up this novel remix into a glorious new beat and key of pure entertainment and fun. I’m not sure if these characters (or the universe) would work in a series that mashed up with additional science fiction classics. But I think it should be investigated. At the least, more stories in this style would be very welcome.