Lee Denning,
Monkey Trap
(Twilight Times, 2004)

Lee Denning is the pen name of the daughter-and-father writing team of Leanne Powell Myasnik and Denning Powell. Monkey Trap, their first novel in a projected trilogy, begins as John Connard takes on a powerful drug cartel in Columbia. His mission is successful but he receives an apparently mortal wound. He hides in a cave expecting the worst, and instead begins an amazing recovery. At the same time, in Washington, D.C., Lara Picard is seriously injured while biking and she too undergoes an astonishing recovery.

John and Lara don't just recover; they develop extraordinary new talents. One of them is the ability to communicate mentally with beings of a higher-level consciousness. New inner voices tell each of them they are critical to the next step in human evolution, but that the other, whom they are able to sense at a distance, is an evil danger that must be eliminated. The novel describes the resulting pursuit and titanic battle.

It is no coincidence that a fiery atmospheric event has been recorded at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland when the healing of John and Lara accelerates. Aaron O'Meara at Goddard is one of those who have observed the anomalous atmospheric activity. He learns that sensors in the Global Consciousness Project network have since detected strange signals emanating from two moving sources. Those sources are turning data taken from the project's Random Event Generators into organized patterns, a sign of the mental action at a distance the network has been designed to recognize. (By the way, the Global Consciousness Project is real.) Aaron at Goddard and Adrienne Baxter at the project work together to triangulate sensor data and locate the sources. Though their nature is a mystery Aaron is certain they are related to the atmospheric event.

The plot is potentially a good one. Unfortunately, writing mechanics get in the way. Plot tensions aren't maintained as well as they might be. The main twist, which is related to the "trap" of the title, isn't a big surprise when it finally arrives. Things begin to go wrong much earlier when the authors spend far too many pages explaining how Aaron and Adrienne are tracking the signals readers already know are emanating from John and Lara. The details just aren't interesting enough to warrant equal space with the actual progress of the changed protagonists. I did get a kick though out of Aaron covering his civil-servant rear with e-mail while tracking what he believes are aliens. He has to tell the bureaucracy something in case they really are. He can't be too direct though, for fear of ruining his career.

Like the plot, the characters are a potential plus, but for the most part become stereotypes. Hamilton O'Donnell in particular is truly annoying as the authors work to give him an Irish persona. On one page alone Ham refers to his nephew as "me lad" four times. Faith 'n begorah, it takes more than that to make an Irishman.

Books two and three, it is promised, will unveil more of the nature of the "Nova sapiens" John and Lara are becoming, and I would like to know about that and those aliens, but not enough to work through another 800 or so pages. The trilogy would have worked better as a single, tighter novel. I won't be on board for parts two and three.

by Ron Bierman
8 October 2005

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