2015’s Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef is the first volume in Cassandra Khaw’s Gods and Monsters comic horror series.
Having blotted his copybook egregiously, Rupert Wong can look forward an unpleasant afterlife if he does not somehow earn enough karmic credit before dying to forestall his justly earned damnation. Thus, his current occupations as chef and liaison.
His clientele as a chef: Kuala Lumpur’s ghouls. Best not to ask what’s in the meals. As liaison, he assists Kuala Lumpur’s damned souls. Expect untoward complications, such as an offer he can neither refuse nor survive.
Dragon King Ao Qin is the stuff of nightmares. Dragon King Ao Qin is Rupert’s latest client. Ao Qin’s treasured youngest daughter is dead. Ao Qin knows the agents of her death: Erinyes, better known as the Furies of Greek legend. Ao Qin does not know why the Furies were pointed at his daughter, nor does he know who orchestrated the Furies’ ire.
Murder investigations are not Rupert’s usual beat. But one does not say no to Ao Qin unless one is tired of living. Being very keen on preserving his skin, Rupert reluctantly swears a solemn oath to find the person or persons responsible.
Aside from promising dire consequences should Rupert fail, Ao Qin is not much help. The Dragon King cannot even be bothered to name his dead child save in terms of her relationship to the Dragon King. Rupert therefore begins the case with very little to guide him.
There is no situation a self-centered, cruel dragon cannot make worse. Rupert is not the only investigator to have been strong-armed by Ao Qin. Each has been promised great rewards for success and terrible punishment for failure. Only one at most will be rewarded. The others will perish.
Rupert must therefore solve a murder, expose a semi-divine killer, and dodge the homicidal attentions of his rivals.
The title is a bit misleading: one of the meats Rupert prepares is human (described in ableist terms, although I suppose if you’re eating humans, how you describe them is well down the list of concerns). However, the beings eating the meals he prepares are not humans. “Cannibal chef” is unduly harsh. It is not like Rupert is eating people himself! Or at least, not an excessive number of people.
Readers may reasonably point out that investigators in Rupert’s position almost always have to juggle ill-advised romantic complications on top of unreliable clients, obstructive bureaucrats, cutthroat politics, entrenched xenophobia, and murders. Rupert of course has a monstrous but endearing girlfriend, whose affections he desperately wishes to retain and whose well-being is important.
Various transgressions can place one on greased rails into the various hells. However, these do not map one to one on the sort of sins Christians would have to worry about1. Thus, cheerfully amoral acquiescence to the letter of the law while subverting the intention is perfectly acceptable (unless one missteps, in which case one is screwed). Rupert appears out of his depth in this game which makes him of enormous use to others.
Greatly complicating the above is the fact that not only has what is now Malaysia has been inhabited by humans (and presumably their various gods) for at least 40,000 years. It is located on what has long been a popular trade route and has experienced multiple waves of conquest. Demographics are complex, and this goes for the divine demographics as well. Thus, Greek Furies killing the daughter of a Dragon King.
The plot is slight but amusing. The work is short and the pace energetic; the reader will be engaged. There isn’t time to stop and ponder just how on Earth feckless Rupert has managed to survive this long. This dark comedy has one over-riding motif: things can always get worse for Rupert. Nonetheless, it is funny.
Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). Oddly, while other books in the Gods and Monsters series are available from Book Depository, Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef is not.
1: Christian sins don’t seem to matter much; there aren’t any Christians mentioned in this work. However, Islam, the majority religion of Malaysia, is mentioned. It is clear that mortals fall under the purview of their respective faiths.
However, fealty to a specific religion doesn’t seem to provide one with protection from the displeasure of any other gods. In fact, it is clear that it does not. One can offend multiple faiths simultaneously, which must be fun.