Serendipity's Circle article
George C. Chesbro's Mongo books
Literary Coroner Book Reviews
Serendipity's Circle
Summer 2001

An article by Julie Hoverson

Copyright © 2001 by Serendipity's Circle. All rights reserved.
This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.
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Once in a while I stumble across an author who has been around for ages, hiding in plain sight, quietly and consistently turning out some really amazing stuff. The best part about discovering such authors a decade or two into their careers is that you can dive into an entire library of their writing all at once. Assuming you can hunt down the earliest material, you can study their trends, growth, and missteps without having to wait years for their next book to come out. Imagine hearing your favorite band for the first time and finding out they'd already recorded a dozen albums. That's pretty much how I felt ten years ago when I read my first George Chesbro novel.

The bulk of Chesbro's published work is a series of weird mystery novels featuring Dr. Robert Frederickson, a.k.a. "Mongo the Magnificent," a criminology professor/private detective/martial artist/ex-circus acrobat who also happens to be a dwarf. A brilliant man who has spent his life overcompensating for his size. Mongo doesn't come across as super-competent or infallible, but quite the contrary. In gaming terms, he'd be a maxed-out character with far too many skills, being run by a player who doesn't always remember to use them. Mongo therefore comes across as an interesting person, clever and capable but sometimes forgetting to watch his back; his stories in told in the first person, so you can actually get a sense of why this odd man does what he does.

Even if you find a dwarf criminologist beyond your ability to suspend disbelief, the Mongo novels feature intricate plots and manage to incorporate bizarre elements into a logical progression of investigation. The typical story begins with a run-of-the-mill investigation which slowly evolves into a truly weird experience. If you've seen the Eddie Murphy movie The Golden Child (which Chesbro novelized in 1986), you'll have a sense of how characters who keep both feet firmly on the ground can prevent even the strangest plot twists from taking over a story.

Keeping the story from turning into a circus is vital, because nearly all of Chesbro's books tread the weird gray areas of pseudo-science and the paranormal, not to mention the more mundane themes of murder, blackmail, government corruption, and conspiracy. For instance, the first Mongo book, Shadow of a Broken Man, begins with Mongo looking into a death which may have been faked and winds up involving international espionage agencies, psychic abilities, and mental trauma. An Affair of Sorcerers finds him hired by a 7-year-old neighbor to find her father's "book of shadows" (a witch's notebook/grimoire), which leads to blackmail, murder, and a rabid bat.

Like any good series, the Mongo books depict an evolving setting, so they ought to be read in roughly chronological order for best effect. Mongo's relationship to his brother Garth, "the human lie detector," for instance, goes through permutations that lose their impact if read out of sequence. This used to be unavoidable because of the rarity of reprints, but almost the entire Mongo series is currently available in paperback editions reprinted in 1999. For a full bibliography, check out

Chesbro has written a lot more than Mongo mysteries, however, including the aforementioned The Golden Child, and Bone, a gritty amnesia thriller that begs to be turned into a movie. Under the pseudonym David Cross, Chesbro has published a trio of Chant novels, featuring John Sinclair, who crosses over into the Mongo novel Dark Chant in a Crimson Key. Veil Kendry, a Vietnam vet with disturbing dreams, appears in some of the later Mongo novels but started out in the solo novels Veil and Jungle of Steel and Stone. The tone of these series is more in the "men's adventure" genre than the Mongo books are, but both feature the paranormal elements that are a hallmark of Chesbro's writing.

For gamers, the attraction of these stories extends beyond their oddball characters and motifs. Each Mongo adventure has a richly layered plot, carried along by twists and turns that make sense within the context of the world but are unexpected because the world is always more complex than you first assumed. Chesbro's skill at misdirection is to be envied by any GM; many's the time you'll think you know how it all adds up, but usually the revelation is even more intriguing than you'd suspected. You may find yourself inspired to design some rather ambitious scenarios yourself. It's not that it looks easy, but the effect is so pleasing that you'll long to offer your players the same kind of thrill.

Pay especial attention to the way Mongo is role-played in the stories. Considering all the skills he possesses, it's gratifying to see him portrayed nevertheless as a normal kind of guy. He is a powerful NPC who simply isn't aware of how high his scores are, which makes him simultaneously fallible and likeable, a useful combination in any gamer's repertoire.

Copyright © 2018, Hunter Goatley. All rights reserved.
Last updated 25-MAR-2018 21:44:33.32.