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The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk Hardcover – March 17, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This novel starts out with us meeting an amnesiac named Brian Kay. He is middle-aged and only has short-term memory. His doctor is a brilliant research neuro-scientist named Susan and we know she is well-respected in her field.
The story goes on to tell Susan's story, as well as that of a super secret agent named Charlie Monk. We know that Charlie seems physically and mentally superior to most other people due to his training and physical prowess. He works for a top secret U.S. intelligence agency and is under the guidance and directorship of a man referred to as "Control."
We know that Susan is married to another doctor named John, and that John has just mysteriously died in a plane crash while on a mission in Russia. Susan and John have a young son named Christopher and now she must raise him alone, with the help of her beloved father.
I don't want to give more of the plot away other than to say that Susan's life goes topsy-turvy when she finds out John was murdered, and that soon her life and Charlie's will meet up.
This is a very, very strange book. There was one point just under the halfway mark when a big "twist" is revealed about Charlie (and unexpected - trust me you won't see this coming.) I almost stopped reading I was so frustrated with it and thought that this was not the book I wanted to read.
I am glad I did not. Suffice it to say there are several other twists in the story, and if you find yourself frustrated at some points it will all come together at the end. I am very glad I finished.
The Charlie Monk to whose discrete charm the book's title refers is a highly trained government operative who works for an organization so secretive even he couldn't identify it. Given orders in clandestine meetings by his otherwise nameless master, Control, Charlie undertakes thrilling, James Bond-worthy missions--and in his off hours satisfies his Bond-sized appetites. Charlie is the perfect secret agent, focused single-mindedly on the task at hand, obedient, almost effortlessly lethal, and loyal, having been rescued by his current employers from an unpleasant childhood in an abusive orphanage. Charlie's memories of that period of his life are curiously indistinct, but that is something the book's other principal character can help him with: Dr. Susan Flemyng is a brilliant research scientist who specializes in the brain's retention of visual memories. She and Charlie cross paths repeatedly in the book.
For the most part the writing in The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk is transparent, as is appropriate in a book you want to speed read through. (I clocked in at just over 24 hours.) In a few action scenes, however, the narrative seems abbreviated, as if a paragraph or two were left out in the rush of describing dramatic events, and the reader is left confused about exactly what is happening. But it doesn't matter. The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk is a wild ride that's well worth the read.
Charlie Monk is specialist, a killer for a government agency so high it has no name. He's the best of the best--he does his job perfectly and asks no questions. Or at least, he didn't.
When he runs into an old friend, things start to go odd with his life. Charlie starts to question things. . . things that others higher up apparently don't want questioned.
What might sound like the run-of-the-mill action thriller is anything BUT run-of-the-mill. What Charlie discovers is earthshaking for him. He is delivered one shattering punch after the other, and the reader shares the shock of those punches.
The only flaw I could find in this novel was the occasional absence of description and that sometimes too much happens at one time. Both of these are common in this genre and in no way lessened my enjoyment of this fantastic book. Sure, it's not a literary gem like Pride and Prejudice or Lolita or Rebecca, but it is simply one of the best novels I've ever read. I picked it up, on a whim, thinking that my husband might like it. Turns out we both did!
I'd love to tell you more. I wish I could give you the reasons that I read this book through in one evening, but I can't ruin it for you. So, do yourself a favor: if you have any interest in a roller coaster trip for the mind, get this book, buckle yourself in and enjoy the wild, unforgettable ride.