Picks and Pans Review: The Monkey Handlers
It might seem unfair to mention Watergate alongside Liddy's name. The infamous break-in and cover-up happened nearly 20 years ago and convicted conspirator Liddy, after spending 52 months in jail, has established himself as a novelist. But The Monkey Handlers, Liddy's second work of fiction, is so heavy on high-level government-CIA intrigue, and his hero is so stalwart, that you can't help but be reminded that the author is a criminal semimastermind in love with his own supermanliness. (In his autobiography Liddy boasted that he proved he was impervious to pain by, among other things, putting his hand over a flame.)
Michael Stone, a veteran of the SEALs, who, he keeps telling us, are the toughest, baddest operatives in the whole United Stales armed forces, has never exactly come to terms with the fact that Vietnam is over and that his greatest skills—maiming and killing—are not so highly valued in civilian life.
Now an attorney in an upper New York State town, Stone gets a call from an old buddy's sister, Sara Rosen, who has been arrested after breaking into a chemical plant known for inhumane treatment of animals. Stone accepts the case out of loyalty and stumbles into a mess involving neo-Nazis, a radical Israeli group, an Arab terrorist and rabid animal-rights activists. Sensing somehow that this is a situation that calls for more than traditional lawyering (at which, he admits, he is none too talented) Stone seizes the opportunity to revert to type. He enlists some fellow ex-SEALs, breaks into his war chest of high-powered weapons and goes after the culprits. Over-long descriptions of said hardware, convoluted high-level espionage, much macho-speak, and one of the oddest romantic relationships in recent memory ensue.
Liddy hasn't written a novel so much as assembled one out of the tired elements of adventure-intrigue-mystery fiction. Honorable but misunderstood men fighting for a cause, deathbed utterances, enough poison gas to wipe out a whole city—they're all here, updated with topical references. That doesn't mean The Monkey Handlers isn't readable—just that you can't take it as seriously as the author, who compares his protagonist to Julius Caesar. Even the most enthralled reader can see that Stone is nothing more (or less) than Superman and that this book is, at best, a prose cartoon. (St. Martin's, $19.95)