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Book Review: Madhouse by Rob Thurman

* Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
* ISBN: 0451461967
* ISBN-13: 9780451461964
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 337pp
* Publisher: Penguin Group (ROC)
* Pub. Date: February 2008

Madhouse is one of those novels that you think has potential when you look at it, but just doesn�t quite meet your expectations after you read it. Rob Thurman is a good writer, and his writing style is easy to read and pleasant on the eyes and mind. Unfortunately, this third book about Cal and Nik Leandros is not well-plotted and suffers from an excess of innuendo.

The story is basic. Cal and Nik run a sort of supernatural detective agency in NYC. Nik is a ninja and Cal is a half monster/half human strong-arm. Together they are a pretty powerful pair. When a murderer from the past is reconstituted and begins his murderous rampage anew, they are hired to hunt him down and kill him (he isn�t human, although humans once thought he was). In the meantime, their friend the puck, Robin Goodfellow, is being hunted for a crime he committed nearly 8,000 years ago. Nik and Cal must save their friend and destroy the monster before they end up dead themselves.

The story is mostly action sequences punctuated by introspections from Cal Leandros. The novel is told entirely from his point of view. Cal suffers from having to live a life as a half monster and this is the primary motivation for the events in the books since Cal is doing his best to be a good person while avoiding becoming the monster his genetics says he is. Unfortunately for the reader, most of the angst is over events that occurred in the first two books, and while Thurman is able to relate the events that lead to the angst, he fails to re-build the requisite emotional aspect. In essence, readers know why Cal Leandros suffers so, but don�t emotionally connect with him in his troubles. (Unless the reader has read the first two books, which I hadn�t.)

The story is entertaining if you are the type of person who goes to movies to watch the fight sequences. Thurman is not attempting to write the next great novel, and to impose such standards on the book would do it a great disservice. But even as escapism it failed for me as a reader.

For one thing, Thurman never really explains how the monster underworld manages to stay undetected from the human world around it, especially since so many bodies end up lying around. There are too many monsters around for them not to be noticed. This may have been addressed in the first two books, which is all the more reason to read them in order, but it was not in this novel.

For another, the plot was overly simple and I got tired of the fight scenes being pretty much the same, albeit with different characters involved. There is little actual mystery in the story, although it is billed by the marketers in that way. The villain is known from the start, and other than Cal Leandros� internal musings, the rest of the plot is fight scenes and characters teasing one another.

Finally, I did not enjoy the crude humor of Robin Goodfellow (honestly, there is only so many times an author can make the same joke before it gets tiresome) and there was rampant cursing and swearing. The latter is not so much a problem, as it makes sense for the life that Nik and Cal live, but it still could have been less common and still be a interesting.

The plot moves quickly. Thurman�s fight scenes are interesting. He is especially good at bringing the reader from a quick laugh down into the depths of despair. Other reviewers have called his novels roller coaster rides, and that metaphor holds true in Madhouse. In a way, the novel is a strange mixture of The Silence of the Lambs and the Tom Hanks Dragnet movie. It is both funny and deeply disturbing. That makes the novel unique, as does Thurman�s attempt to make the supernatural monsters different from their commonly accepted versions. Zombies are a naturally occurring species, not dead people come back to life, and other angels don�t exist, but a form of life that looks like them does. Hell is just another dimension, not a supernatural place, but it does have its monsters. This scientific take on the existence of monsters is different from the usual, and is something I think Thurman should be applauded for writing.

I thought this book to be merely okay. It could be funny in parts, and it has lots of action, so that is on the plus side. But the repetitiveness of the fights, the plot holes, and the need to have read the previous novels makes Madhouse a novel that I don�t recommend reading.