Authors: Kathryn Ledson
Penguin Australia RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Book Cover:  Monkey BusinessI needed a good giggle when I picked up Kathryn Ledson’s second Erica Jewell novel, Monkey Business. A 24-hour Internet and phone outage at work left me twiddling my thumbs, but as it turned out, Monkey Business was the perfect antidote for enforced boredom. More than once I laughed out loud and looked around furtively to see if anyone had heard (the place was empty, thank goodness); the same thing happened when I was reading at home, late at night. Funny it is, but in a seriously silly way – if you’re after a deep, thoughtful book, then this one probably isn’t for you.

By day, Erica Jewell works in public relations. Well, that’s what she’s supposed to be doing, but her undercover agent lover Jack has gone missing in Saint Sebastian (a fictional and highly corrupt island off the Top End) during a dangerous and unspecified mission, so it’s up to her to save him. Right? No one else seems willing to help – in fact, no one is even acknowledging his existence – so Erica makes her way to the tropical island, determined to find Jack and bring him home. Tupperware smuggling rings, monkeys, corrupt and power-hungry businessmen, a crazy prostitute, a Catwoman suit, and a bad hair cut all make her mission much harder than she expects. Did the customs officer have to confiscate Erica’s hair wax? Will Jack end up as a crocodile’s snack? Who stole Erica’s mum’s prize Tupperware? And what’s with all the monkeys?

Erica Jewell reminds me of a Bridget Jones-Becky Bloomwood hybrid. As a suddenly undercover agent, she’s all fingers and thumbs, managing to attract madcap characters that make her look dead serious. There’s her dotty-but-sweet mother (who cracks me up with her old-fashioned ways), taxi-driver Bruce Willis (who scams Erica more than once but is probably the only taxi driver on the island) and Kitty, the happy prostitute who offers to help Erica find Jack (even though he’s “probably dead”). However, next to Jack, who takes his job very seriously, and Lucy, Erica’s practical nurse friend, Erica comes across as ditzy, clumsy and a bit mad. Even her mission to find Jack is based more on luck than actual skill. If you average it out, she’s probably normal. Mostly.

A light blend of crazy action and simmering romance, Monkey Business is an entertaining tale that’s best read with your silly side showing. Like Rough Diamond, it reminds me of a sitcom, with exaggerated characterisation and improbable action sequences designed to entice the laughter at the right times. Some parts didn’t work as well for me – the Tupperware bits did stretch me to my limits – and the plot seemed held together by laughs at times, but for the most part I was willing to overlook this and just go along for the ride. Bring on the next Erica Jewell instalment.     

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Australia.

Bookish treat: Banana. For some reason, I feel like eating a banana …

A last note – Erica and other characters are fascinated by opening the lids of Tupperware containers. It reminded me of this (skip to 0.35 and you’ll see what I mean):




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