Meet Monk, Charlie Monk. He is David Ambrose's 21st-century's James Bond; a remorseless murdering machine and lady-killer. There is only one thing wrong: Monk is actually a monkey in a human suit. Or is it a human in a monkey suit? Monk is confused, and so is the reader. The Discrete Charm Of Charlie Monk is the kind of complicated story that one has come to expect from author Ambrose. Most of his other books (Superstition and The Man Who Turned Into Himself, for instance) have relied on this formula of science fiction mixed with mystery and conspiracy. The book follows Monk's journey of self-discovery as he learns about his own disturbing genetic roots with the help of Dr Susan Flemyng, who has discovered a cure for amnesia by being able to introduce virtual reality memories into a person's brains.
As he discovers more about himself, Monk realises he is not really who he seems. Added to that is the shadowy organisation - Pilgrim Foundation - which seems to be yanking both Monk's and Dr Flemyng's chain.
The foundation is determined to keep Monk's secret under wraps at all costs and this includes kidnapping Flemyng's father and son. But, as Flemyng helps Monk understand himself, she learns unpalatable truths about people close to her. Adept as Ambrose is at spinning tales of future science - he did, after all, start his career writing screenplays for Orson Welles - this time he may have taken too big a step.
The Discrete Charm Of Charlie Monk is a complicated story; it is difficult to follow and raises incredulity levels with almost every chapter. However, Ambrose does a great job of building suspense to almost unbearable levels - especially with regard to what species Monk really evolved from.
But, still, in the end, the question is: whoever or whatever Charlie Monk is, should we even spare more than five seconds wondering about it? The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk by David Ambrose Macmillan $170