A Lee Martinez: A Comprehensive Review
A. Lee Martinez exploded onto the sci-fi/fantasy scene in 2005 with the publication of his first novel, Gil’s All Fright Diner (currently being made in to a DreamWorks movie). And, just five years later, Martinez has written a total of seven novels, distinguished by their outlandish premises and twisted, yet clever, wit. Martinez has an ability to weave bits and pieces of classic legends and myths into completely new, sometimes hilarious, sometimes gut-wrenching works of fiction, comparable only to perhaps Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. The levels of horror, intrigue, humor and suspense in the works of A. Lee Martinez will keep your eyes plastered to the page.
Gil’s All Fright Diner
Gil’s All Fright Diner is Martinez’s first book, and it is somewhat evident in its rather limited scope, relative to his later novels; most of the story takes place in and around a small country diner, originally owned by the mysteriously-disappeared Gil Wilson, now run by the “plump” and “jiggling” Loretta. However, despite the relatively small space the author works within, the story is filled with excitement and surprises—just eight pages in, zombies are breaking through the front door.
Earl is a tall, lanky vampire with a horrible comb-over; Duke is a giant, hairy werewolf with a monstrous beer-belly. Together, these best-friend antiheroes, who often act as each other’s antagonist, defend Gil’s All Night Diner against the dark arts and a pair of sinister teenagers, and, in the process, uncover a haunting mystery about the diner and its former owner. Martinez shows incredible depth, creating detailed mythologies around each supernatural element within the story, eventually culminating into a highly-suspenseful climax.
In the Company of Ogres
Published in 2006, A. Lee Martinez’s second novel, In the Company of Ogres, follows Never Dead Ned, an accountant for an evil legion of soldiers that just can’t seem to stay dead. Ned gets suddenly transferred to the head of “Ogre Company,” a regiment of misfits that includes trolls, goblins and orcs, on a mission to whip them into shape. Unfortunately, he only has 30 days. Even more unfortunately, our Ned is a horrible leader and an even worse soldier, and before long he has the company plotting to kill him – even though he will just be mysteriously resurrected.
With his sophomore novel, Martinez’s wit and humor are spot-on. However, there are a few holes in the way some of the elements unravel within the storyline. Ultimately, In the Company of Ogres is a hilarious and unique spin on the classic zeros-to-heroes motif.
A Nameless Witch
This 2007 A. Lee Martinez novel sends readers on a medieval journey through a world ruled my magic and sorcery. The female protagonist (the “nameless witch”), who is stunningly beautiful, but dresses like a hag to fit her role, basically embarks on a type of hero quest. After her witch-master is murdered, she is given the choice between two paths – one toward a peaceful life, one toward a life of revenge and possible death. Luckily for the reader, she chooses revenge.
Like any good quest, our heroine encounters a number of increasingly difficult challenges, leading up to an intense final showdown – in this case, between our witch and the world’s most powerful sorcerer. In order to prevail, she must utilize all of her ingenuity, and the help of a “unique” cast of unlikely friends, including a demon duck and a troll with potato-head-like removable and interchangeable body parts. Like all Martinez books, A Nameless Witch will keep you laughing, often at the mere absurdity of certain premises and themes.
The Automatic Detective
The first of two A. Lee Martinez novels published in 2008, The Automatic Detective is the author’s crazy rendition of a classic detective novel. Probably Martinez’s most fast-paced novel, this semi-futuristic story follows a high-tech robot, named Mack Megaton, on his desperate attempt to save the lives of the family that lives next door. Filled with massive action, destruction, violence and gore, this roller-coaster ride also manages to reveal substantial depth within both our lead robot and the story itself, dealing with issues, including self-sacrifice, racism, speciesism and interspecies relations. Filled with action, suspense, romance and mutants, The Automatic Detective is an addictive read that will keep you white-knuckling the dust jacket.
Too Many Curses
A. Lee Martinez’s second novel of 2008, Too Many Curses takes place entirely within a single castle, which, on the surface may seem even more restrictive than the setting of Gil’s All Fright Diner. However, this is a special castle, owned by an evil wizard, named Margle the Horrendous, and filled with infinite corridors and horrors unimaginable.
At the very beginning of the story, Margle is eaten by a purple monster, and Nessy, Margle’s servant, is left to try and free the legion of cursed spirits within the castle. Nessy, who, herself, is a strange, furry creature, called a kobold, must outwit and outmaneuver a number of obstacles – monsters, demons, etc. – inherent in a magic castle that is about to be consumed by its own curses. Along the way, she enlists the help of the numerous benevolent cursed-spirits within the castle, including a fruit bat, possessed by a famous knight.
In the end, Too Many Curses doesn’t quite fit together as elegantly as the author’s other novels. However, it is still a hilarious and exciting must-read for fans of A. Lee Martinez.
The sixth novel by A. Lee Martinez, Monster is perhaps the author’s most potent mixture of fantasy, action and humor. And, like Martinez’s first novel, Gil’s All Fright Diner, Monster features two antihero protagonists, who are often at each other’s throats. The title character, Monster, is a color-changing “Cryptobiological Containment and Rescue Services” specialist, who catches various malignant creatures, including yetis and dragons, and comes home to a raging demon girlfriend. Judy is grocery store worker, and “light incognizant” – meaning she can see everyday magical events and creatures, unlike “full incognizants,” but she later forgets about them. Monster and Judy get mixed up in each other’s lives after trolls destroy her apartment and Monster’s work van –she needs something to do, he needs a ride to work.
The two unlikely partners go on to face an alarmingly increasing amount of loose cryptobiologicals, and struggle to solve the mystery behind the phenomena, all while fighting off a crazy cat lady with magical powers. In the end, will they win the fight for the future of the planet? And, will Monster finally muster the courage to break up with his girlfriend from hell?
Published in 2010, Divine Misfortune offers up a truly original premise, bringing together historic mythologies from across the world, and combining them with modern day civilization. Gods and goddesses of all kinds exist in this parallel, modern world, and they are often very present, even posting advertisements for religious followers over the Internet. Worshipping a particular god comes with certain rewards, like money, good luck and success. However, you must also make regular sacrifices to gain favor with your deity. Is it worth it?
For married couple Teri and Phil, it is time to start searching for a god, after a series of misfortune, including Phil’s loss of a promotion at work. They end up deciding on Lucky – god of prosperity in a raccoon’s body. At first, the loads of extra, mysterious couch and sidewalk change make it seem like Lucky was the perfect pick. However, Lucky soon moves into their house, and starts throwing giant god parties. He even invites his old buddy, Quetzalcoatl, to crash on the couch. In addition, Lucky has an ancient and deadly enemy, looking to take down the raccoon-god and any of his followers.
Overall, Divine Misfortune doesn’t seem create the same sense of urgency and adventure as Martinez’s other works. However, the level of humor and creativity will still keep you engrossed, until the actually quite intense and suspenseful ending.