There is some serious monkey business afoot in David Ambrose's new thriller, The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk. While Ambrose has long been a standard among the Clancy-esque genre of military-tinged thrillers, he has outdone himself this time with a dizzying array of new ideas, futuristic conceits and movie-quality action.
The slam-bang beginning would be enough even if the author had not extrapolated his compelling plot to include elements of genetic tampering, government intervention, intelligence gathering, and espionage. At the heart of Charlie Monk, much like the all-inspiring 1981 film Blade Runner, is the question of what it means to be human and how our minds make us who and what we are. Taking a cue from The Matrix as well, there is also the question of which memories are real and which ones are a fašade.
"I dreamt I was a butterfly," quotes Ambrose from Chuang Tzu's 500 bc. writings, " and didn't know when I awoke if I was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who now dreamt he was a man." Charlie could be a highly trained government operative or he could be a brain-damaged mental patient who believes in his mind that he lives his perilous life. Either way, Ambrose's butterfly is in deep trouble as he lives his life as one of the world's deadliest secret agents.
"The past, Charlie once heard, was a foreign country," Ambrose writes halfway through his innovative novel. "In his case, it was a country he'd had no intention of revisiting until now. But meeting Kathy had changed everything, and her mysterious disappearance left him no choice."
The revelation of who and what Charlie Monk is and becomes is a devastating ride both for the reader and the character. By the time the great mystery is revealed, we are wrapped up in Charlie's difficult and formidable world of threat, conspiracy, and sabotage as he launches a massive attack against the Demon Machine and the men behind it. For the sake of his own life and that of his entire species, Charlie has to maintain control of his own mind long enough to succeed in his quest.
It is an action-packed story full of great ideas about the skewed nature of reality and its very nature makes it a separate beast from the typical adventure novel. Worth perusing from its startling cover alone, Ambrose's adhesive plot and compelling characters makes The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk a fantastic blend of James-Bond style theatrics and the dislocated ideas of The Matrix. Who the hell is Charlie Monk and how is it going to end?