The Boogeyman’s Intern by Matt Betts. Dog Star Books, 2018. 215 pages, $15.95
The Boogeyman’s Intern, as its central concept, uses a plot device that has been floating around the science fiction / fantasy genre for decades: Gods are real, but their existence is almost entirely dependent on belief by humans. Betts extends this to all entities generated by humanity’s magical thinking, including boogiemen, imaginary friends, tooth fairies and the like. Move Valhalla or Olympus to a more generic Hill (very much a company town, like Hollywood), add a murder mystery and a parody of a police procedural: voilà! You have the basic recipe for The Boogeyman’s Intern. The blurb supplied by author Josef Matulich characterizes it as a mashup of two movies, Monsters Inc and Chinatown. That’s very nearly correct, except that Chinatown was a seriously noir mystery story. If you were to substitute Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or The Big Lebowski, you’d be much nearer the mark. Betts raises some serious questions about identity and agency and the state of popular culture, but this is intended to be a funny book. Just where the “Intern” in the title comes from, I don’t know. It’s a great title; it’s why I borrowed the book from the Chicago Public Library. Possibly Betts intended to write a book somewhat different than what appeared as the final product. It’s been known to happen.
Intern? The closest thing to an intern is the protagonist, Abe, at the beginning of the story. He’s an imaginary friend. If being an imaginary friend is not an internship then it’s a gig, a temp job. After all, it’s a constituency of one believer that does not last past childhood. Abe not happy and he is screwing it up with monumental self-sabotage. Things get weird when the powers that be yank him from his job (no surprise) and assign him to invent the role of policeman to solve what appears to be a murder. This is unprecedented. There are no police. What is there to steal? If anything on the Hill is coveted, it’s believers, the equivalent of ratings. Can the inhabitants of the Hill be killed? And is Abe really what he thinks he is?
As a story, The Boogeyman’s Intern is not primarily supported by conflict although there is indeed some drama. Humor is probably a larger element of the story-telling, but humor is not universal so not every reader will have the benefit of it. A larger element is simply ambiguity: What is going on here? This requires some attention to pacing, and while it worked for me, it may not for others. Finally, Matt Betts is more of a poet than a novelist. While this does not result in much of any lovely or lyrical prose, Betts does deliver a pretty consistently competent use of language: That kept me going!
This is a creative mix of ideas, tropes, devices, etc., from science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres. It’s funny and it’s a serious conversation about the state of popular culture, magical thinking and memes. The story is worth your time. If you have an opportunity to do so, read it.