“No! Bad dragon!”

Molly, wielding a broadsword, has just saved two clueless church ladies from being eaten by Steve, a Sea Beast who, at the moment, looks like a mobile home. (Shape-changing is just one of Steve’s many talents.) Now, she’s chewing him out while trying to shoo the spacey women away.

Yes, Christopher Moore’s The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove isn’t Moby Dick.

Like Herman Melville’s masterpiece, this piece of merriment is centered around a largish fish. But, in Moore’s case, the fish is a huge, 5,000-year-old remnant of prehistory who eats whales for breakfast. Not only can he can swim in the sea and crawl on the land, but when the mood hits, he can become a she.

Indeed, relatively recent, while he was a she, one of her (his?) babies — very ugly, even for a baby — was hooked by a couple of black blues singers. This resulted in one (who later, not surprisingly, was given the nickname Catfish) watching the other, Smiley (who, it must be admitted, wasn’t very good at channeling the blues, hence, the nickname), get eaten by the Sea Beast who, many decades later, was given the nickname Steve by Molly. Got that straight?

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Molly — a former B-movie actress who starred as the scantily (and, often, not at all) clothed Kendra in such cinematic gems as Kendra VI: Battle Babes in the Hot Oil Arena (which pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?) — has gotten very upcloseandpersonal with the Sea Beast. Indeed, they’ve become an item. That’s why she’s able to give Steve orders in addition to giving him a name.

Her lust for the lust lizard has been fueled by vibes the Sea Beast has sent out which have gotten a significant portion of the town of Pine Grove (previously featured in Moore’s novel Practical Demonkeeping which boasted [if that’s the right word] a demon called Catch) uninhibited and, well, downright licentious. There’s so much pairing off in the novel that it reads like the passenger list of Noah’s ark — in a good way.

Not that Moore does much in the way of biblical allusions. He does, however, trot out Catfish Jefferson (yes, that Catfish) — who, to his annoyance, is often called Mr. Fish — to add a second literary reference which, like the Moby Dick story that hangs implicit over the pages of The Lust Lizard, decorates the book in the same way that gilding a garbage can just seems to brighten up everything.

His story of how he and Smiley tried to flee with the huge carcass of the baby Sea Beast in order to win a reward, only to have nothing left at the end except the creature’s head (and, of course, nothing whatsoever of Smiley) — well, he says he told that story to Ernest Hemingway who didn’t believe it at all.

Or did he? “Catfish, did you ever read The Old Man and the Sea?” his girlfriend asks.


“Photo ID”

As he has shown in many of his comic novels, Christopher Moore has a thing for sex and for monsters, and for people who have sex with monsters.

And, even more, for comedy.

For instance, the scene when Molly is trying to cash a check but doesn’t have her wallet:

“I have photo ID.” Molly pulled a video tape out of her enormous handbag and plopped it on the counter. There was a picture of a half-naked woman tied between two stakes on the cover.

Or, when the Sea Beast lets out a roar, Moore writes that it “sounded like someone had dropped the entire cast of The Lion King in a deep fryer.” (Oh, I guess that’s another literary allusion, sort of.)

Or, when Moore describes Howard Phillips, the parchment-like, bookish owner of HP’s restaurant, being interrogated by a rogue cop:

“I’m merely here to observe a hideous ancient creature that has arisen from the darkest Stygian depths to wreak havoc on civilization and feast on human flesh,” Howard smiled (the smile of an undertaker at the news of a big bus crash, but a smile nonetheless).


“Professionally calm”

Molly’s love interest in The Lust Lizard — I mean, of the human sort, because, let’s face it, inter-species affairs don’t tend to last long, especially when there is that significant size differential — is Theo Crowe.

He is Pine Cove’s constable who, because of constant pot use, is relatively incompetent. So when he finds himself, not only several days clean and sober (blame Steve) but also driving a killer through the hills, he is trying to figure out how to act:

“Joseph, could you pull that gun out of my ribs, or put the safety on, or something? This is a pretty bumpy road. I’d hate to lose a lung because I didn’t get new shocks.” That sounded sufficiently glib, he thought. Professionally calm. Now if he could just avoid wetting himself.

And then there are the facts of milk carton life that Theo learns when a paper boy goes missing (actually, into Steve’s mouth, except no one knows that yet):

{T]he milk carton company…wanted to know if Theo could get a picture of Mikey Plotznik where he wasn’t making a contorted, goofy face at the camera. (If they found a better picture, Mikey would end up with great exposure on the two percent or nonfat cartons, but if they had to go with what they had, he was going on the side of the buttermilk and would only be seen by old folks and people making ranch dressing.)

And then there is the breakfast meeting at which Theo wants “to blow the bitter chunks of indignation” at two new lovers at this table with their lovey-dovey ways:

So although Val was currently irritating him like a porcupine suppository, he was honest enough to realize that he was merely jealous of what she had found with Gabe. That realized, Gabe started to irritate him as well.


“A quick sniff”

Moore gives the reader an insight into the thought processes of the Sea Beast as the creature evolves — literally — into a tragic figure. And not only Steve, but also Skinner, Gabe’s dog.

For Skinner, Theo is the Tall Guy, and Gabe is the Food Guy. At one point, Food Guy slams the door in Skinner’s face.

Jealous, Skinner thought. No wonder he can’t get any females, smelling like fabric softener and soap. The Food Guy wouldn’t be so cranky if he’d get out and sniff some butts…Then, after a quick sniff to confirm that he was, indeed, the Don Juan of all dogs, Skinner resumed his barking fit.

Ah, sex. It’s on the minds of nearly all the characters in Moore’s The Lust Lizard.

Except maybe the four elderly women who work as incompetent clerks at the local drug store:

[The] four hens couldn’t make change or answer the simplest question… [and] they would retreat to the back room when anyone younger than thirty entered the pharmacy, lest they have to sell something embarrassing like condoms.

Well, it takes all kinds. And The Lust Lizard has them all.

Patrick T. Reardon

Written by : Patrick T. Reardon

For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is https://patricktreardon.com/.

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