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Joly Monsters

I've come across two very different versions of Dom Joly. One is the pleasant family guy I've seen in Cirencester's best coffee shop. The other is the 'TV personality' who has appeared in the kind of excruciatingly unfunny shows that I wouldn't watch with a barge pole. (This is not quite a mixed metaphor if you use Decartes' model of light.) Luckily, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps was written by the former Joly.

Although ostensibly about hunting down famous monsters from bigfoot to the ogopogo, it is probably best read as a humorous travel book, one of my favourite genre, and the reason I bought it. There are some wonderful writers in this genre - think, for instance, Bill Bryson, Dave Gorman and Stuart Maconie. In fact, for me, the humorous travel book is far better than the serious kind.

In principle, Scary Monsters ticks all the boxes. We've got a funny, self-deprecating narrator and interesting locations to visit. Not only do we get Loch Ness, but we also get to see the likes of Japan and the Republic of Congo through Joly's eyes. Like all good travel stories, some of his adventures are fraught with problems, and a couple of near-death experiences. What can possibly go wrong?

It's really hard to put your finger on what is wrong with this book - but there is something. It's not Joly or his writing. It's not the places he visits or the people he meets. I think, in the end, it's the theme that doesn't work. Although the frameworks that some humorous travel books are hung on are pretty flimsy (I'm talking to you, Dave Gorman - not to mention that other guy who went round Ireland with a fridge), at least they have the potential to be fulfilled. Going to see mythical monsters inevitably lacks a satisfactory conclusion.

It probably doesn't help that Joly's monster hunting technique is essential to turn up at the alleged location and mooch around. A problem that is reinforced when, in at least one situation, the travel problems he faces are so big that he never even makes it to the monster's home. Along the way he meets lots of people who, when asked 'Have you seen the monster?' say 'No, I haven't, but I know lots of people who have.' And like their secondhand stories, this book lacks the narrative drive to pull the reader in for long sections.

It really isn't a bad book, and worth taking a look if you are interested in cryptozoology (if only to see how not to do it) or like pretty well anything from the humorous travel shelf.

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