Thursday, January 14, 2016

Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf

This week I'm reviewing the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, by Gary Wolf. Most of my readers probably recognize this as being the novel which the simultaneously surprisingly good and terrifying movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is very loosely based upon. I say very loosely because aside from there being a murder investigation and the names of certain characters being the same, the book and movie are two entirely different animals. Not just in overall plot but definitely in tone as well. While the movie is simultaneously fun and also terrifying (Judge Doom, anyone?), the book has a far more serious and even darker tone. There's also the barest element of race relations in the book, but that's a part that I felt barely gets any development.

To provide some context for my readers, who I'm pretty sure have seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the book varies in some very key differences. Toons and humans still coexist, but in the book version whenever they speak they leave word balloons above their head. Some Toons are able to suppress their word balloons with concentration and vocalize instead, but this is the exception rather than the rule. A significant number of Toons work in the comic book industry, with comic characters such as Dick Tracy and  Hagar the Horrible getting cameos. Comics are made by having the Toons act out the scenes of the comic as each scene is photographed. If a Toon is required to do something dangerous they can produce a doppelganger, a temporary extension of themselves which can then have a safe dropped on them or a stick of dynamite blown up in their face or what have you. This ability is very important because unlike the movie universe, Toons can die, with sometimes disastrous results.

The plot follows Eddie Valiant, a private detective hired by Roger Rabbit to find out why Rocco DeGreasy, head of the cartoon syndicate which has Roger in a twenty year contract, won't give him his own comic strip despite promises otherwise. Valiant does some poking around but it seems that it was merely an empty promise to keep Roger working with the DeGreasy Syndicate. He's about ready to drop the case when it becomes infinitely more complicated. On the same night both Rocco DeGreasy and Roger Rabbit are found in their homes, murdered. The police think they've got the case pretty well tied up, but Valiant isn't so sure. This is further complicated when Valiant finds a doppleganger of Roger's, who has about two days until he disintegrates, and desperately wants Valiant to finish the case in the time he has left.

As I said, this book definitely has a darker and grittier tone than the movie. A good example is the character of Jessica Rabbit, Roger's wife. In the movie she has all the hallmarks of a femme fatale but is deep down good-natured and loves her husband. In the book she's emotionally manipulative and interested only in herself, with absolutely no love for Roger. Jessica is also willing to utilize seduction to get what she wants and there are multiple male characters who are absolutely convinced they're the ones she's truly in love with. There are some jokes and funny parts to the book, but considering you've got two murders and evidence of the DeGreasy Syndicate utilizes exploitative contracts to control its talent for their own benefit.

As I said, there's also the element of race relations involved in the book, although again I feel like this isn't developed enough to be a proper theme in its own right. You do have Toons being segregated to their own neighborhoods, or mixed neighborhoods being described as ''blighted''. Human police refusing to handle Toon crimes and leaving that to a separate Toon department, and within the book's universe history Toons being imported by the boatload to assist in the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Plus there's the whole issue of humanoid Toons who try to pass for humans, such as Jessica Rabbit. This is an issue that has considerable history in the United States in specific and could be a fascinating metaphorical examination of race relations, but it kind of takes a back seat to the murder mystery investigation. As it stands in the book, it's more interesting background material more than anything else.

This book does have some interesting twists and turns, as well as some red herrings, so it works pretty well as a detective novel. I wasn't entirely sure of the ending by the time I got to it, but I don't read terribly many mystery novels so I probably am out of practice in puzzling together mystery plots. Overall I'd say this book is interesting and very different, but definitely very different in tone from the movie so keep that in mind going in.

- Kalpar

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