Review by Julia Cleghorn
By Dennis Meredith
From cover to cover, this novel races from one drama-filled moment to another. With the likes of private investigators, money-hungry lawyers and a dangerously eccentric multi-billionaire, there are kidnappings, murder attempts and all manner of corruption.
And at the centre of it all is one delightful chimp.
His name is Solomon. And thanks to the dedicated work of kind-hearted primatologist Abigail, he can understand and use language. But, in a situation that scientists know all too well, her research centre is under financial stress. Enter billionaire Walter Drake. He agrees to house Solomon and help Abigail to continue her pioneering work. But there is an ulterior motive.
Cue doom music.
Walter’s heart is failing and he plans to harvest Solomon’s ticker to biologically engineer one for himself. And so ensues the very public court case between saving the life of a human, and obtaining legal protection for an ape.
The blurb promises a thought-provoking story that resonates with emotion and brings to light the profound ethical issues around the rights of our closest living relative.
And does it deliver? Well, there are elements of those things in there, if you can find them in amongst all the DRAMA.
Skeletons in the closet, family conflicts, and personal battles take centre stage, among the seemingly central themes of primatology, medical advancements, and the judicious development of such a complex court case.
And complex it is. From binding contracts to ethical responsibilities, arguments are far reaching. When one side contends that a man’s life is a stake, the other attempts to prove chimp intelligence. They reference the Bible and the Ten Commandments, and questions are posed about precedent, ownership, and ultimately, if Solomon has a soul.
It’s a wonder how so much was covered in the sparing chapters dedicated to the actual case.
Story highlights centre around Solomon’s ability to interact intelligently with humans. The computer-assisted conversations between him and Abigail are incredibly in depth, while simple acts like opening a can of sprite and offering a coke to a friend are enchanting when done by a chimp.
And then there’s the time Solomon is taught how to swear. The f-bomb, the a-bomb, the son-of-a-b-bomb. Our favourite chimp learns them all, and evidently knows when to use them.
At times, the story is narrated from the chimp’s perspective. By doing so the discipline of primatology turns to the unrealistic world of fictional animal characters. Solomon becomes just another character, like the humans. But maybe that’s the point.
All in all it’s enjoyable and easy to read. It’s a fast-paced story that you’ll whip through pretty quickly. At times, it might even keep you up that little bit too late to see how all the drama plays out.
But, if you want an in depth look at primatology – read up on Jane Goodall. If you are want to hear about ground-breaking medical advancements – stick to New Scientist. And if you want to understand the legal system in complex cases – have a drink with a lawyer friend, because at the end of the conversation, you’ll probably need one.
Julia is a passionate science communicator and loves inspiring audiences through the wonders of science. During her postgraduate studies, she travelled around Australia with the 2007 Shell Questacon Science Circus, performing science shows to students in remote areas. She then moved to Brisbane to work for Network Ten’s kids science show Scope, where she wrote scripts, presented on-air, and produced the show for three years. Julia eventually moved back to her beloved hometown of Melbourne, where she is now working as a freelance science writer, mainly for the CSIRO.
[Image Credit: Author supplied]