Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell
In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque.’ The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence. A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.
There used to be a popular comic strip by Bill Waterson called Calvin and Hobbes. It featured the adventures of a young boy, named Calvin, and his stuffed toy tiger, Hobbes. As soon as I read the title of Gareth Powell’s latest novel I was immediately reminded of a single frame from one of my favourite strips. Calvin is more than excited when he learns that one of his favourite author’s has a new book just about to be released.
Calvin sums things up far better than I ever could. With a name like Commander Coriander how can it not be anything other than immense? Sage words from one so young, I felt exactly the same way when I first came across the moniker Ack-Ack Macaque.
In order to get the most from this novel you need only do one thing. If you can happily accept the premise a monkey can fly a fighter plane during World War II and that it is the most natural thing in the world you’ll be on to a winner. Yes, yes I know it sounds entirely absurd (it is) but you know what? It totally works. Powell revels in the madness of it all and has crafted a cracking science-fiction adventure around the idea.
The character of Ack-Ack Macaque himself is just so much damn fun. Think a sardonic, simian Biggles with a penchant for bad rum and good banana daiquiris and you’ll be about half way there. He enjoys his cigars, swears more than my wife (you’ll have to trust me on this one, she swears a lot) and has a marvellously bolshie attitude. His default solution to almost every situation is varying degrees of violence. Larger than life and proud of it he is more than just a character, he is a force of nature.
You know what we need, Merovech?”
A hairy palm slapped the wood hard enough to raise dust.
“Booze! And lots of it!”
Meanwhile the other main lead, Victoria Valois, manages to hold her own against the one-monkey war machine that is Ack-Ack Macaque. She’s intelligent, inquisitive and absolutely determined to uncover the details of the conspiracy that left her ex-husband dead. Victoria’s history gives Powell the opportunity to include some really cool technology in the story.
Now how do these two finally end up in the same place? Well, that would be telling and I’m not going to do that. Take it from me the discovery, in this instance, is half the fun.
You’re bound to feel a certain amount of deranged joy when you realise that all bets are off. In this novel, anything can potentially happen and most likely probably will. In the space of the first hundred pages alone Powell manages to throw a couple of major curve-balls into the plot that I’ll admit I didn’t see coming. I thought I had things sussed pretty quickly and was overjoyed when I realised that I was almost entirely wrong. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I had very high expectations before I started reading Ack-Ack Macaque (what can I say, some of us have stayed closer to the old evolutionary tree than others), but nothing could have prepared me for the novel I read. Any book that makes me grin like a buffoon whenever I cracked it open is a definite winner. Full of great characters, fast moving plot and lashings of first-rate action, I can’t recommend this highly enough. I didn’t just like this I loved it.
If bullets wouldn’t work, he’d have to do it the traditional way, with an old school monkey knife fight.
The novel also includes a couple of nice extras that offer a little insight into the inception of the character of Ack-Ack Macaque. The first short story that the character appeared in is reprinted and I rather like the idea that the monkey has always been hanging around somewhere just waiting to be discovered.
Ack-Ack Macaque is published by Solaris and the paperback is available from 3rd January 2013.
There had better be sequel to this or I will be unleashing my own army of flying monkeys to sort the publishers out. I’ll take no pleasure in it, but I’ll do it! I promise you!