There are some writers who can gather disparate, seemingly incongruous influences and combine them unpredictably into something truly memorable. Daryl Gregory has proven this time and again, but The Album of Dr. Moreau (2021) must rank among his more eclectic and unexpected creations. It opens by quoting T.S. Eliot’s “Five Rules of Detective Fiction,” a clever tease for the author’s fans, who just know he intends to break every one of them. It then proceeds to do just that in an engaging mystery yarn, written in the style of Agatha Christie. Well, except that it’s set in early 2000s, in Las Vegas, in an alternate past, where five genetically engineered human/animal hybrids have gained fame and fortune as a boy band in the vein of the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC. Yeah, you heard me! When the group’s manager, Dr. M, turns up dead during a hotel afterparty, shrewd police detective (and former magician!) Luce Delgado catches the case. Her interviews of the band and its entourage gradually fill in the backstory of these genetic misfits, eventually revealing both the murderer and the tragic origin story of the animal ensemble.
The Album of Dr. Moreau opens with a casual, upbeat tone that leans on clever character interplay to generate humor – but also intrigue, both about the murder itself and the wacky peculiarities of the world. Where did the WyldboyZ come from? They’re a memorable bunch, humanoid but possessing animal aspects: Tusk (elephant), Matt (bat), Bobby (ocelot), Devin (gorilla), and Tim (pangolin). As Luce’s investigation continues, we get to know them all, and as the casework comes together so too does the storied history of the group. Gregory’s ingredient list, in other hands, probably doesn’t add up: boy bands, old-school detective fiction, alternate worlds, early 2000s period detail, furry conventions, animal puns, Las Vegas, and classic literary influences? It all ramps in a cavalier, almost disposable-feeling way, but ends up – as Gregory’s work often does – with eyebrow-raising cumulative effect. The climactic scene delivers a satisfying Christie-like monologue with surprising emotional depth. The Album of Dr. Moreau is funny, inventive, and heartfelt, another impressive feat of literary legerdemain.