In Fishman’s eco-thriller, a voluble primate threatens to bring down the animal-testing industry.
Liane Vinson has made her peace with working at the fabulously rich and sinister animal-testing corporation called Pentalon. Then one of her charges in the primate lab, a bonobo—that’s the chimpanzee subspecies famous for preferring love to war—named Bea utters what sound like actual, if indistinct, words, like “bowling-go,” “en-decko” and even “Liane.” Depending on where the reader falls regarding the novel’s overwrought philosophical dialogues on the nature of sentience, a talking chimp could seem like either a novelty act or the most profound challenge to human supremacy and self-regard ever; to Pentalon’s fantastically cruel CEO Axel Flickinger and his murderous security chief Vlad Gretch, Bea is the kind of animal-rights mascot that could tank the whole company. To save her from a laryngectomy, Liane busts Bea out of the lab and takes her on the lam, assisted by Mick, a mensch of a veterinarian. Pursued by Vlad as well as the ruthless, machine-gun-toting secret operatives of the Department of Agriculture, they turn to Liane’s old flame Corey, an eco-fanatic whose rather sensible plan—put Bea on TV as an animal-rights mascot—Liane rejects as too tawdry an exploitation of her simian innocence. Readers who would rather not get involved with a talky, bitey and none-too-housebroken ape will feel a bit bemused by the multiparty war to take custody of Bea. Fortunately, the author turns the scrimmage into good, boisterous fun. Fishman is a deft, fluent writer who’s great at turning out intricate action scenes, and he gives us appealing characters—even the chimp grows on you—to boot. Subplots about Liane’s dying mom and the anguished Congolese family who started all the trouble add pathos and exoticism to the mix.
A hokey but entertaining thriller that’s more fun than a barrel of overgrown monkeys.