Band of Brujos

After the interview with Alexander Yates at the Manila International Book Fair, Day 4 was wrapping up and I was dead tired, so I found myself wandering to the wellness fair in one of the halls upstairs, and got one of those 15-minute massages on a demo massage chair. So I kicked off my shoes and took out my copy of Moondogs and had fifteen minutes of pure reading bliss.

I’d had a very exhausting month, squeezing in some odd pages whenever I can, and I really wanted to get back to reading, so the following week, I went with my fool-proof plan of action whenever I’m in dire need of some quality reading time: I booked myself myself a massage (not reading, of course, although not for the lack of trying :p)  and mani-pedi combo (the golden opportunity!) at the spa (hair treatments at the salon work just as well)!

Moondogs is a novel told in quite a number of yarns, each one featuring a different character in a very curious cast.

Howard Bridgewater, an American businessman based in Manila, is kidnapped by the druggie cabdriver Ignacio and his partner in crime, an evil, retired fighting cock named Kelog. Howard’s son, Benicio, harbors years of resentment towards his father, but flies to Manila in an attempt to renew their relationship, only to find that his father has gone missing. Monique is a harried embassy official with too much on her plate… and then some on the side. Reynato Ocampo is a local hero with his own justice league (described as “sticking up for the unstuckup for”), and Efrem Khalid-Bakkar is just what the group needs.

I know all this sounds kind of the-House-that-Jack-Built-ish, but you’ll get the hang of it once you start reading, and the yarns knot up later on, setting the stage for the a thrilling event that brings all the characters together.

The setting is an aspect of the book that deserves mention. As you learned in my last post, Moondogs is a novel set in the Philippines but written by an American writer. Being Filipino, and familiar with most of the places detailed in the book, I found it interesting to read about something so familiar from someone else’s — a foreigner’s — point of view, and I love how you can’t mistake the setting for anywhere else. From Quiapo to the baywalk on Roxas Boulevard to Makati, and Batangas, Davao and Subic,  I was surprised at how vividly the scenes were depicted and how accurately the nuances of the culture are represented in the story.

Here’s a passage from the first chapter:

Ignacio shifts Kelog to his other arm, leans against the concrete wall of a store selling toilets and bathtubs and tries his utmost to look nonchalant. He scans the noisy street, all bathed in sweat from an unusually hot mid-May, even for the Philippines. Power lines sag dangerously low over speeding buses and jeepneys. Women hawk cool juice and duck eggs from tin kiosks, while men in a repair shop fold up their shirts to air out their guts. Two children chase a scalded cat down the sidewalk, but they get distracted by Kelog, and the cat escapes “Is that a fighting cock, mister?” they ask. Kelog eyes the general area of the children with hungry disdain, and Ignacio tells them to beat it.

I thought the characters were well-thought out, although the tone changes depending on the character featured in the chapter, and I found I liked reading some characters more than the others. It’s sometimes too easy to channel Benicio’s angst, or Monique’s annoyance, and while they were effective, I was not a big fan of either characters. I much preferred the exciting bits with the bumbling baddies and the “brujos.” But I do like how all the characters are not as they appear — the good not purely good, and the bad not completely bad — and how a new facet of their identity is revealed in each chapter.

I loved Ignacio, the kidnapper, who is a jumble of contradictions. Small-time crook who’s in way over his head as he attempts to pull off what he thinks is the crime of the century; one tough cookie who crumbles to his wife.

I also loved the idea of Ka-Pow — a band of “brujos”.  The novel does not exactly explain the concept of “brujos,” but you get what it means when it introduces the unusual members of Ka-Pow: a magician who performs cheap tricks for real, a man who can transform into an animal, and my favorite, a guy who’s just really, really unlucky (if you think you’ve got the worst luck in the world, you’ve got to meet this guy!). They’re magical folk, all right, but with powers that are not always nice to have. Nevertheless, the brujos are in what Alex calls the “graphic novel” part of the book, and I could really see it my mind when I read their chapters, all those action scenes played out frame by frame, with lots of jagged “Ka-Pows” flying about.

Alexander Yates describes the novel as “halo-halo,” and he’s right. Part crime noir, part graphic novel, part fantasy (or speculative), part social commentary, part dark comedy, and part Quentin Tarantino movie, Moondogs swirls together different stories and different flavors, all in one heady concoction for readers to savor.

Oh, and here’s the story I promised:

Alexander Yates signs his books with a stamp of one of the woodcuts featured in the book’s frontispiece. He asked me which one I wanted, and because I was intrigued by those woodcuts from the first time I saw them, I cheekily burst out, “All four!” half-jokingly, and he surprisingly obliged!


It must be the bruja in me! :D


Moondogs, hardcover first edition, signed

4/5 stars

book #93 for 2011

(P.S. I’m working my way through a backlog of reviews — as usual I’m reading faster than I can pound out the blog posts, and Halloween comes a little early this year and so I’ve been sewing and crafting like crazy, tee hee! You’ll find out soon enough! :p)

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