I’ve read a decent amount of New Pulp in the last year and a half. This has greatly been the bi-product of wanting to support writing fellows. Of course it is also the genre that many anthologies my own writing has been included in for the last six to eight months or so. And if there is one thing I’ve noticed is that New Pulp feels less protean than Classic (OG, Real, the original, etc) Pulp in the types of stories that fall under its banner. Most of what you get with New Pulp Novels is The ‘Man of Action’ type of stories. And where this surely can be debated, as I’ve not read even close to the tremendous bulk of New Pulp Novels that seem to flow in a never ending stream; it’s not rare for me to feel déjà vu when I read something in the genre. I often ask myself, where are the Psychotropic stories of creatures from other planes, where are the planet shuffling captains of space, Where are the gun slinging outlaws, Where are the soldiers cracking wise, and most importantly where are the steamy noir detectives?
When I opened up Hugh Monn, Private Detective by Lee Houston Jr and saw the cover art I instantly knew at least two of my favourite tropes of largely ignored subject matter was going to ready for me. But surprisingly I got a bit more than that. I got stories filled with real people, I loved and loathed. Despite being set in a Philip K Dick-isque vision of life on another planet.
Hugh Monn is a collection of old Noir style Detective stories that have heart and human warmth that has been missing in just about any story in the genre I’ve read thus far. An emotional transparency that lets you get past the flaws it does have and enjoy some good stories. Read on if you’re interest is perked.
Hugh Monn, Private Detective is not so much a novel as a collection of short stories featuring the case loads of the titular character. Arguably it does create a greater whole mostly through the relationships that Monn manages to obtain. A witness in one story may come back as a client in another story. Chronologically most every case is important in reading the next. Though like most serial installments most of these elements are brushed over when you need to remember it. And though it’s usually a quick run by—it doesn’t take much to recall the important information. Every character that returns we’ve spent at least a bit of time with. And there’s no question that everyone in Monn’s world goes through his gritty filter.
If the title isn’t self explanatory, Hugh Monn, Private Detective thrusts us into the life (well mostly work) of a Private Detective called Hugh Monn. The included eight cases in this volume are all set on an island-city, on an planet called Frontera in the far flung future. The planet itself is an interesting nudge giving us a Sci-fi equivalent to what Casablanca was to World War II. As the planet serves as a mixture of refuges of countless alien races all trying to live together after the fall out of The Universal War, in which the protagonist served. But despite the constant mention of alien races, high tech gadgets, and vernacular; for me the planet of Fortuna is merely an undersold dressing that seemed forgettable. I can honestly say it wasn’t for the trying as as its definitely mentioned enough times and attempted to be made alien– but I think that the combined warmth and realism of the characters, and the lack of strong illusion in the prose made it seem more of an unimportant feature, than anything else.
Of course the flimsy and uninspiring setting does little to detract from stories and wealth of characters. Each short mystery, introduces or reestablishes highly relatable characters many who are victim of circumstance who need a little help, or those trying to get a foot up by virtue of thie rather slate gray codes of morality. Often when reading this book, I found myself reminded of Phoenix Wright, or games by Roberta Williams, by just how colorful and dynamic everyone truly was. Of course they all tend to thread the line of charactures and archetypes we often see in many a media. From Big Louie the giant bear like alien with a heart of gold, to the bookish cat girl who behind the hauty and strict personality is really a good person just needing to shown the way out of her own head. But where the tropes are there can be heavy handed. Playing these personalities off the everyman mold that is Monn, we see a deeper connection and you can’t help but feel for these characters. Author Houston Lee Jr. shows us why these particular stereotypes in fiction have stood the test of time. It’s because we relate to them. And no matter how many times we see them, if mapped out right, they still pull at human emotions. And here the writer excels in making us care, and allows us to find attachment to these people through Monn’s own life and feelings. And beyond the turning mysteries of crime, the chance accidental circumstances, he weaves not just a plot but the iatrical webs of life and the relationships we all have with people so very similar.
And even with the trappings of common archetypes, and a rather uninspired setting on a distant planet– Hugh Monn, Private Detective is a pleasure to read. And the whole kit works so well, not because of courageous storytelling, masterful mysteries, or alien situations in a distant future. This book works because Houston Lee Jr has a rare and quite admirable gift to make the reader care about just about everyone who stumbles into the protagonists’ eye sight. The life (and more to the point work) of Hugh Monn makes you remember why we were given emotions and why people are drawn to others. At its root, this story filled with aliens and creatures from beyond Earth, is more human than it lets on.
And though I can’t recommend this book to everyone, I do think that those who will enjoy it already know who they are. If you are a fan of narrative Detective stories like the Phoenix Wright video games, The Hardy Boys, filed with colorful characters with a human twist; Hugh Monn will be right up your alley. But if your looking for a mystery that is more thrilling, and immersive– well you should know that a Radio time noir detective story really isn’t for you anyways.