bad monkeys“It’s a room an uninspired playwright might conjure while staring at a blank page: White walls.White ceiling. White floor.”

We like to think, I hope, that, while there are people in this world capable of incredible evil – regardless of whether or not they actually think they’re doing the right thing or not – they are heavily outnumbered by the forces of good who will always save the day.

Bad Monkeys is the story of “the organisation”, a crack team that scours the world fighting evil. Jane Charlotte is their newest recruit and after brushing up against them in her teenage years when she accidentally discovers that her school janitor is a serial killer, she is left in limbo for two decades before she is properly recruited to the department of Bad Monkeys, the team that kills those who perform evil deeds.

But Jane has killed someone who wasn’t on her assignment list, and she’s now in a stark white room being questioned by a doctor who can’t tell if she’s lying, insane or, most terrifyingly of all, telling the truth. She whips up a world in which she is tracking down the Mandrills, a rival organisation responsible for baseless evil, accompanied by a homeless woman called Annie, three men called Robert, and some clowns, all the while armed with a gun that kills people by natural causes and drugs that affect the laws of physics. As Jane’s story is picked apart by the doctor, it becomes clear that absolutely nothing is as it seems.

The book is very clear in that Jane and her fellow operatives are responsible for tackling “evil” rather than “crime”. They have almost limitless information on every human on the planet and can track down everything about you in minutes, not only knowing, say, what books you’ve taken out of libraries, but how often you’ve read them and which paragraphs particularly appealed to you. Although in theory good, the organisation has some strange technology, forefront of most is the Eyes Only technology. These are small, almost invisible lenses that can see and hear whatever’s going on in a room, and are generally placed on a pair of eyes somewhere in a room. This means any poster, photo, painting, billboard, newspaper, book cover, or even banknote could be watching you. (When reading this earlier I thought I was safe, then decided I might not actually have been in an eye-free room all day.)

The book is, frankly, insane, but I really enjoyed it. The secret agency trope has been done to death (not that that’s a complaint;I like a secret world hidden just under our own), but not ever quite as maniacally as it’s been shown here. It’s a madcap romp through a study of what makes someone good or evil, and how the two states marry up. It also works well as a thriller, with constant twists and turns in the story, and explaining things the wrong way round so they’re never happening exactly as we imagine they might be.

I definitely came away satisfied, and with a desire to find out more, but, just like in real life, some things are best kept secret. A stellar, quick read that might be a bit nuts, but also works wonderfully as a genuinely tense thriller.