Ever since I went to the Philippines a few years back, my interest has always been piqued by anything Pinoy. (Have you been to Juicy Jun’s Filipino food truck on Everett Mall Way? If not, you need to.) What I don’t see a lot of are novels set in the Philippines, at least not from American publishers. So when I read an advanced review of Moondogs, Alexander Yates’ debut novel set in the Philippines, I couldn’t wait to read it.
Moondogs was a treat that took me back to the food, the sights and smells, and the singular culture of the Philippines. Even if you don’t care one way or the other about the Philippines, Moondogs is a great read: a blend of family drama, potboiler mystery and magical realism; and it’s funny. But you will undoubtedly also learn a few things about Filipinos along the way.
In Moondogs, Howard is kidnapped just as his estranged son is headed to Manila to visit him. Howard is a flake so his son just assumes he’s been ditched. After a few days, he starts to worry. Soon, Howard’s kidnapping is international news.
The basic thrust of the plot combines multiple narratives that introduce us to the book’s main characters. We meet Howard’s kidnappers, two taxicab-driving brothers hoping to sell their captive to Muslim separatists; Howard’s friends, peddlers of influence in the Filipino government; Howard’s rescuers, celebrated policeman Reynato Ocampo and his team of soldiers known as the Ka-Pow Task Force. This is not your standard issue SWAT team—each member is imbued with unique magical powers. Each narrative strand slowly weaves tighter together until the novel reaches its climactic ending.
I enjoyed the playfulness of this novel. Not many of the hard-boiled mysteries that I generally read employ the kind of magical realism and mystical abilities of Ocampo’s Ka-Pow Task Force, so that was a fun divergence from my standard fare. Yates does a very good job bringing the Philippines to life, sprinkling descriptions of things that are uniquely Filipino like San Mig beer (the Filipino kind, not the Spanish kind), jeepneys, carabao, cockfights and bubble gum flavored lambanog without going overboard.
If you want to travel to the Philippines but don’t have the cash, Alexander Yates’ Moondogs is the next best thing.