The Laughing Monsters

The Laughing Monsters

Book - 2014
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Roland Nair calls himself Scandinavian but travels on a U.S. passport. After ten years' absence, he returns to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, to reunite with his friend Michael Adriko. They once made a lot of money here during the country's civil war, and, curious to see whether good luck will strike twice in the same place, Nair allows himself to be drawn back to a region he considers hopeless.

Adriko is an African who styles himself a soldier of fortune and who claims to have served, at various times, the Ghanaian Army, the Kuwaiti Emiri Guard, and the American Green Berets. He's probably broke now, but he remains, at thirty-six, as stirred by his own doubtful schemes as he was a decade ago.

Although Nair believes some kind of money-making plan lies at the back of it all, Michael's stated reason for inviting his friend to Freetown is that Nair should meet Michael's fiancee, a college girl named Davidia from Colorado. Together the three set out to visit Michael's clan in the Uganda-Congo borderland-but each of these travellers is keeping secrets from the others.

Shadowed by Interpol, the Mossad, and MI-6, Nair gets mired in lust and betrayal in a landscape of frighteningly casual violence as he travels with Adriko and Davidia, gets smuggled into a war zone, kidnapped by the Congo Army, and terrorized by a self-proclaimed god ruling over a dying village. Their journey through a land abandoned by the future leads Adriko, Nair and Davidia to meet themselves not in a new light, but rather in a new darkness.

A high-suspense tale of kaleidoscoping loyalties in the post-9/11 world, The Laughing Monsters shows one of our great novelists at the top of his game.

Publisher: Toronto :, HarperCollins Canada,, [2014]
Edition: First Canadian edition
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9781443437998
Branch Call Number: F JOH
Characteristics: 228 pages ; 22 cm


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Apr 24, 2017

I'm not even sure what this book is actually supposed to be about. I thought something big was going to happen but it never did. Meh.

Jan 21, 2017

While for me this story wasn't quite as 'complete' as others I've read by DJ, its fevered denouement was one for the memory banks. I've also come to realize what a virtuoso's ear Denis Johnson possesses for capturing dialog.

May 07, 2015

"Late that day Michael pointed at the hazy distance and claimed he saw the hills of his childhood, the Happy Mountains, called by the missionary James Hannington, in frustration and disgust, the Laughing Monsters. . ."
Denis Johnson favors characters who live on the outskirts of society ("Jesus' Son," "Angels") or Americans adrift in hostile foreign countries that that don't understand ("The Stars at Noon," his Vietnam opus "Tree of Smoke"). His latest book features the latter, even if the lead character claims to be Scandinavian. As DeLillo mines the paranoid territories that were once the province of espionage novels, so Johnson maps the post-9/11 land (in this case Sierra Leone) that will be familiar to readers of Greene and Conrad. He writes in a deceptively flat manner, which can be off putting and his characters, at least in this book, are equally flat. I don't think he's ever topped the interconnected stories of "Jesus' Son," but I'll still read anything he writes.

Mar 23, 2015

A lot of things happen, but nothing that could be called a plot. Hard to understand why any intelligence agency would employ a rogue jerk like the protagonist. Characters appear and disappear without explanation. Some beautiful passages and observations, but more pretense about something important, than substance.

Dec 12, 2014

3 stars: Perhaps like you, I read this book because I saw it recommended in the Portland Mercury News in November 2014. The first half reads like William Gibson, with terse descriptions and fast action. Then, the author (or editor) lost control of the rudder. Pages of dialog, sans who said what, leaving you to backtrack or scratch your head over who's saying what. Also, inexplicable jumps forward in plot. Perhaps, Johnson wanted to convey the confusing sense of what it's like to be a shadow figure immersed in African global intrigue. What I got was a half-baked story, and scared away from further Denis Johnson adventures.

ChristchurchLib Dec 07, 2014

"Scandinavian operative Roland Nair is back in Africa at the behest of an old friend, attaché Michael Adriko, who's getting married. Or perhaps he's there on orders to find Michael, who may have deserted. This, like many of Roland's motivations, is unclear. And there's a lot more going on, not all of it above board, as shifting loyalties, secrets, and simple greed complicate an already murky situation. Though most frequently compared to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, this complex novel may also appeal to fans of Graham Greene." Thrillers and Suspense December 2014 newsletter

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