If Philip Marlowe were to roam the back streets of today's cities, he might bear at least a slight resemblance to Disciple Manning, the protagonist of R. Scott Bakker's mystery novel, Disciple of the Dog. They're both tough-talking tough guys with a special affinity for the dark recesses of society. Manning is a troubled ex-soldier -- he fought in Iraq in the first Gulf War -- with a ceaseless hunger for pot and sex. He is, of course, fiendishly handsome, but he still manages to alienate women with his crude and usually unwelcome honesty.
However, Manning's most notable distinguishing feature is his memory, which sets him apart from Philip Marlowe and, apparently, the rest of the human race as well. It's been the subject of university lab tests for many years: he cannot forget ANYTHING. Now, this is not your run-of-the-mill eidetic memory, which is fundamentally visual. In fact, his memory of the written word doesn't seem to be the equal of his memory of the conversations and confrontations he's had in the course of three decades of a topsy-turvy life. He remembers everything ever said to him by anybody. Everything. Everybody. And not just the words, but the expressions, the body language, the intonation, and the context, including everyone else in the picture.
Disciple Manning is not a happy man. In fact, from time to time he despairs of humanity, having what he believes to be a far more accurate picture of human behavior than just about anyone else, and as a result has slit his wrists on several occasions. Somehow, though, he manages to pull through.
In Disciple of the Dog, Manning is hired by the wealthy parents of a 21-year-old woman who has disappeared from the cult headquarters where she's been living for two years. The scene is a small town in rural Pennsylvania, a former industrial center now shrunk to a fraction of its previous size. In the course of investigating the cult, a small operation led by a former UC Berkeley professor of . . . guess what? cults . . . Manning encounters another unusual organization that has set down roots in the same town. It's a neo-Nazi "church" led by a clique of ex-cons from the Aryan Brotherhood, and it appears to own the town. Manning rockets between believing that first one, then the other of these evil-seeming organizations is responsible for the young woman's disappearance and, he firmly believes, her death.
Bakker's writing style is lively, to say the least. The tale is told in Manning's interior voice, which is rich with imagery, profane, and endlessly engaging. The story is intricately plotted, though that's difficult for the reader to see until Manning reveals key points in retrospect as he sorts through his memories. The book is full of surprises. It's a lot of fun.