Silent Monkey is an anagram of Milton Keynes. Silent Monkey is also the name of a fictional ape, the mute monkey hero of a series of fat doorstopper novels written, as it happens, by my distant relative Mo “Linnets” Key. For the record, such is the distance of our cousinage that I have never met Mo, am not entirely sure whether “Mo” is short for a male Mohammed or Malcolm or a female Maureen or Marjorie, nor indeed why he or she has attracted the nickname “Linnets”. What I do know is that the Silent Monkey books are bestsellers, flying off the shelves of airport bookstalls, earning my distant cousin untold millions.
The basic premise of the series is that the Silent Monkey itself is a sort of ratiocinative detective, à la Sherlock Holmes or Solar Pons or Prince Zaleski. Unlike these fictional human detectives, it is a fictional monkey detective, and as if to underline its monkiness it spends much of its time swinging from bough to bough in the Milton Keynes tree cathedral. Mo’s incredibly detailed descriptive passages on the tree cathedral lead one to think that he or she has spent many many hours in the shade of its trees, rapt in diligent study, and is probably in possession of an advanced qualification in arboreal science. Indeed, one can learn much more from the books about trees than one can about monkeys. One learns, too, about Milton Keynes, including the startling and rather unexpected information that the town, when built, was quite deliberately aligned with the angle of the sun in the sky on midsummer’s day. It thus has a certain Wicker Man resonance, foreknowledge of which is very helpful if one pays a visit and finds cause to ponder the eerie nature of its citizenry.
There is perhaps less eeriness in the Silent Monkey books than one might expect, or hope for. They are highly formulaic, though who can blame Mo for sticking to a formula which has proved so dizzyingly successful? Having skim-read my way through the canon, I am able to offer the following summary of a typical Silent Monkey book:
Chapter One. We are introduced to the Silent Monkey, swinging from bough to bough in the Milton Keynes tree cathedral. Usually there will be excessively detailed tree descriptions, though these are carefully aimed at the general reader rather than the tree specialist.
Chapter Two. Somewhere in Milton Keynes, a crime is committed. Often, though not always, a murder of peculiar savagery will have occurred, so that one imagines the town to be as littered with corpses as Inspector Morse’s Oxford. The police – dimwits all – scratch their heads in consternation.
Chapter Three. A person tangentially involved with the crime goes to the tree cathedral to consult with the Silent Monkey. Cue much more tree description, interspersed with crucial information about the crime.
Chapter Four. Gratuitous passages of civic Milton Keynes puffery.
Chapter Five. The Silent Monkey ratiocinates. Given that the signal characteristic of the Silent Monkey is that it is silent, its ratiocination is hinted at, rather than made explicit, in fine descriptions of it swinging from bough to bough. Certain facts about the trees it is swinging to and from are dropped in, with a light touch.
Chapter Six. A second crime is committed in Milton Keynes. It is, of course, directly related to the first, but in a thoroughly bewildering manner. The police scratch their heads again.
Chapter Seven. The person from Chapter Three, or possibly somebody else entirely, goes to the tree cathedral to tell the Silent Monkey of the new developments. This scene usually takes place at lunchtime, and we are given valuable insight into the Silent Monkey’s nut-based diet. There is often an extended passage about one particular type of nut.
Chapter Eight. While swinging from bough to bough in the tree cathedral, after a postprandial nap, the Silent Monkey reratiocinates, to take account of the new information given in the previous chapter.
Chapter Nine. A few choice morsels from the civic history of Milton Keynes.
Chapter Ten. The criminal or villain is lured to the tree cathedral by fair means or foul. The least dimwitted of the police officers happens to be there. After some flowery descriptive prose about some of the trees not previously mentioned, the Silent Monkey leaps from a bough on to the head of the villain, and the police officer snaps on the handcuffs and places them under arrest. The Silent Monkey then leaps back up into the trees, and swings from bough to bough.
Chapter Eleven. The entire plot, including any loose ends and wild improbabilities, is tidied up, just in time for dawn to break on midsummer’s day and the startling and rather unexpected alignment of Milton Keynes with the angle of the sun in the sky is revealed.
It is interesting. I think, that though my distant cousin packs the books with extremely detailed information about trees, we are never told what kind of monkey the Silent Monkey is. I have no idea whether this is a deliberate omission, but in among the millions and indeed billions of happy and satisfied readers there are a few dissenting grumpy monkey-lovers. Due to a postal mishap, I recently received a letter clearly intended for Mo “Linnets” Key. It was scrawled, savagely, in purple ink, which might possibly have been dried blood, and read as follows:
Oi, Key! It is all very well wittering on about larches and laburnums and oaks and sycamores and pines and planes and poplars and cedars and cypresses and yews and alders and boxes and beeches and birches and elms and wych elms and willows and what have you, some of which, according to my researches, do not actually grow in the Milton Keynes tree cathedral, but what some us more monkey-oriented persons among your huge readership wish to know is what kind of monkey the Silent Monkey is! Please put this right in your next bestseller.
The signature on this missive was illegible.