Monkey Business (Erica Jewell #2)
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Her first mission with the mysterious outfit known as the Team is over and Erica Jewell is in a state of limbo – in more ways than one. Life has mostly returned to normal now other than the fact that she’s not really sure what’s going on between her and the enigmatic Jack Jones. Jack has already suffered a painful loss in his life and he’s not willing to get close to anyone again, in case that puts them in danger. And so Erica wonders exactly where they stand.
Jack has a mission he needs to go on – he won’t say much but Erica gets the feeling it’s quite a dangerous one. And then she receives a garbled call from Joe, Jack’s right hand man that suggests that Jack has gone missing in action. With the Team turning a blind eye, Erica decides that if anyone is going to rescue Jack, it’s going to have to be her. Jack is on the Indonesian island of St Sebastian, a small jungle-infested hot mess of instability and corruption. Erica takes some personal leave and makes her way there without a clue of what Jack was up to or how to find him. At best all she can do is stumble around asking questions and hope that she hits on someone that has an idea what she’s talking about – and might be willing to help her.
Monkey Business is the follow up to Kathryn Ledson’s debut novel Rough Diamond which was published last year. Rough Diamond introduced us to Erica Jewell who was working in a boring job to pay off her former husband’s debts when she discovered the bleeding Jack Jones in her garden. An operative for an elite and privately funded unit, Jack recruited Erica to do some of the more mundane work for the job he was on, countering terrorism attacks on Australian soil. Now Erica works casually for the same operation when required and although there’s an obvious attraction with Jack, nothing concrete has been established. Erica knows that he will have dangerous missions to complete and probably often be away.
I enjoyed the first book but I had some reservations and a few things didn’t work for me and the same can probably be said of this installment. There are some things that I think are quite interesting and I do feel that firstly, Erica does undergo some development of character here. In the first book she’s an average person with no idea about units such as the Team but in this one she has knowledge and she has determination. When Jack goes missing, there was never any chance that she wouldn’t go after him personally, once it became obvious to her that the leader of the Team was going to deny any knowledge/responsibility. It seems to work similar to the CIA – if you get caught, you don’t exist. So she books a flight to Darwin and from there to ‘St Sebastian’, an island covered in jungle. She really has no idea what she’s doing but a fortuitous meeting in Darwin with a former university friend at least gives her one contact to make on the island. Mostly she just wanders around asking anyone if they’ve seen Jack and being driven by a taxi driver who is a master at the game of ripping people off.
For me, the first half of this book unfolds rather slowly with a lot of seemingly unnecessary scenes: the football scene at the MCG, which serves to only give Erica’s insecurity about her status with Jack yet another voice, the drunken scene at her friend Lucy’s place where Erica writes herself off for no apparent reason at a Tupperware party and there are probably several others. There’s also a lot of ridiculous stuff involving Tupperware that I’m not really going to get into because it’s partially a spoiler and also because it just….seemed silly. I understand these sorts of books often contain over the top humour that verges into the crazy and you need to check reality at the door upon reading it but apparently I have more difficulty doing that than I imagined.
Fortunately, the second half of the book is much stronger, once Erica actually locates Jack and then they have to get off the island. They have a lot of things to contend with and there is a huge emotional factor as well – Jack isn’t pleased that a) Joe rang Erica to tell her that he was missing and b) that Erica took it upon herself to come here and put herself in deliberate danger for him. Jack has a bit of a problem with Erica being a target for danger but all I can say about that is well buddy, maybe you shouldn’t have nearly bled to death in her front yard and then involved her in the Team. You’ve only got yourself to blame for that one! However I kind of like the way he is expresses his frustration and disappointment about finding Erica in the jungle mixed with the fact that he’s glad to see her in a way as well. At the times the two of them have a really nice dynamic and it seems at the moment that it’s not going to be a forever are-they-or-aren’t-they type of relationship, which is rather refreshing because we all know that can go on way too long…
All in all, Monkey Business is a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were parts I liked and as I mentioned, the second half of the book is quite good. But a lot of the first part of the book had my attention wandering a lot and most of the story didn’t really work for me. There’s a third Erica Jewell book in the works and I am still interested to see where it goes. I’d like to see more of the Team and what they do, rather than have Erica mostly isolated from them, if the Team is going to be a part of the books.
Book #333 of 2013