Disciple of the Dog
by R. Scott Bakker
Cover Artist: Photo: Alessandro Rizzi / Getty Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Forge Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765321909
Date: 23 November 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Twenty-one-year-old Jennifer Bonjour, a member of a religious cult, the Framers, has disappeared. Hired by her parents to locate her, PI Disciple Manning travels to the small, industrially defunct town of Ruddick, Pennsylvania. He befriends Molly Modano, a budding reporter for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. Together, they canvass the town, questioning the citizens about Jennifer's disappearance. The Framers, they learn, believe the world will soon end. Scarier still, they stumble upon the white supremacist Church of the Third Resurrection, which believes Jesus Christ already came once in the form of Adolph Hitler. After citizens begin discovering dismembered body parts, Disciple and Molly find themselves in grave danger.
I found Disciple of the Dog to be an extremely bizarre mystery, which is no surprise since author R. Scott Bakker is famous for his fantasy novels. The intriguing mystery of Jennifer Bonjour's disappearance compelled me to keep reading despite the fact that I initially disliked the novel's hero, Disciple Manning, with a passion. Written in the first person, Disciple of the Dog is narrated by Disciple who has been told by one of many psychoanalysts that it is good therapy to write down one's thoughts. In telling his story, Disciple uses a tremendous amount of cursing and sexually explicit language. Imagine the worse A-hole you have ever known in your life and multiply him ten times and you have Disciple Manning. His constant whining and complaining about his illness and his bragging of his sexual conquests grated on my nerves.
Have you ever been close to someone, a friend, relative or a co-worker, who has a severe handicap or terminal illness and all they ever do is moan and grumble about how bad the world is? This is Disciple. I suppose he curses and engages in sex in order to relieve the stress of having Hyperthymestic Syndrome (a.k.a. Autobiographical memory), which is the ability to remember everything you've ever done. It is a real phenomenon and causes much depression for those who have this gift/curse. Disciple can remember how many cigarettes he’s smoked (99,933), how many different women he’s slept with (558) and how many times he’s been called a sexist pig (69). He keeps reminding the reader about his rugged good looks, describing himself as a cross between Brad Pitt and the Devil. More like a cross between the obnoxious comedian Andrew Dice Clay and the Devil. Not only does he constantly womanize, but he drinks too much alcohol and smokes weed.
What I hate the most about Disciple is his judgmental attitude. He mentally (and sometimes verbally) criticizes everyone he meets. He makes up stories about strangers without really knowing who they are. It is as though he assumes the worst of all those around him. He is definitely a cynic. Interestingly enough, the word "cynic" comes from the ancient Greek word for dog. Disciple is definitely a dog. His life revolves around being a nasty dog. I don't think he's a disciple who is still following and learning to be dog-like, I think he’s already a master at being a dog. Now, I'm the one who is sounding judgmental; therefore, let me apologize and say that Disciple can be very humorous, in a vulgar manner. When asked if he liked American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, he responded that she made him want to light some candles, draw a steaming bath and shave a part of his personal anatomy that men aren't suppose to have. I howled with laughter while reading this novel and eating breakfast at Chick-Fil-A. Furthermore, Disciple does seem to genuinely care about his fellow man. He is quick to rescue Molly when she is in trouble.
The struggling, nearly abandoned, secluded town of Ruddick, Pennsylvania provides a gloomy, desolate atmosphere for a disappearance that initially seemed routine. However, throw into the plot two religious cults whose fanatical leaders are definitely insane and the mystery becomes more intriguing. The plot takes a gory turn when severed body parts begin appearing all over town. The national media immediately descends upon Ruddick like a swarm of locusts. The person, or persons, responsible for Jennifer's disappearance remains a mystery until the shocking ending. There are innumerable suspects which include the leaders of both cults, several strange townspeople, the sheriff, and even Jennifer's father, Jonathan Bonjour. This probably stems from Disciple's paranoia which is a byproduct of his chronic cynicism. Unfortunately, Disciple never solves the mystery on his own. Rather, it resolves itself, though in a rather gory fashion.
Throughout the novel, there is always the discussion of what is reality. The Framers claim that we don't live in the real world. To be honest, Christianity claims that our world is temporal and the genuine, everlasting one will follow. Perhaps most religions believe this. According to Disciple, who doesn't believe in God, reality is based upon perception. People are too quick to jump to conclusions. For example, a man who pulls a gun in a convenience store is automatically assumed to be a robber. However, if he wears a badge, he could be a cop. If there is a Brinks van parked out front, he could be a security guard. If there are cameras, he could be an actor. Or he could be a robber pretending to be a security guard. Reality changes as our perception of circumstances/events changes. (Some of Disciple's lengthy discussions flew right over my head.) His version of reality is slightly skewed by the fact that he cannot forgive because he cannot forget. At night, past events constantly play over and over in his head like an endless film. Obviously, his brain's inability to dump memories can be frustrating. I grew to admire Disciple more when I realized the torment he must endure because of his Hyperthymestic Syndrome.
I won't be able to forget R. Scott Bakker's Disciple of the Dog for a long time. It made me stand back and question my own beliefs. Not my religious beliefs (I stand firmly on those) but my beliefs on how I treat other people. Like Disciple, I sometimes find it difficult to forgive people because I find it difficult to forget the terrible things they've done to me. As humans, we tend to focus on the bad rather than the good. In the future, I will focus more on the good, because I don't want to be like Disciple.
Because of his foul mouth and amoral lifestyle, I can't recommend Disciple of the Dog to my mystery-reading friends who are mostly females. If I had male friends who idolized womanizing, vulgar, alcoholic, pot-smoking heroes, then I would STRONGLY recommend it to them. Would I read a sequel? Probably. Reading about Disciple Manning is like being tempted to slow down and stare at a car wreck. In a sequel, I'd like to see Disciple overcome his Hyperthymestic Syndrome by focusing on events in the present. Perhaps he'll settle down and marry his secretary Kimberley who moonlights as a stripper.