SciThri new releases: September 2014

This month’s roundup of newly-released, or new to me, indie science & medical thrillers.  These books are among the many I don’t have time to read and review, but genre fans might enjoy.

If you are an author or publicist and would like your book listed, contact me with title, author, release date, weblinks, and summary. Only books with scientific or medical themes or characters will be included. Ask me about hosting a giveaway raffle on your behalf (paper books only).

SciThri New (or new to me) Releases:

(Bonus this month: BOOK GIVEAWAY RAFFLES!)

**********

Ark Storm by Linda Davies. Science thriller (2014).

The Ark Storm is coming—a catastrophic weather event that will unleash massive floods and wreak more damage on California than the feared “Big One.” One man wants to profit from it. Another wants to harness it to wage jihad on American soil. One woman stands in their way: Dr. Gwen Boudain, a brave and brilliant meteorologist.

When Boudain notices that her climate readings are off the charts, she turns to Gabriel Messenger for research funding. Messenger’s company is working on a program that ionizes water molecules to bring rain on command. Meanwhile, Wall Street suits notice that someone is placing six-month bets on the prospect of an utter apocalypse and begin to investigate. Standing in the shadows is journalist Dan Jacobsen, a former Navy SEAL. War hardened, cynical, and handsome, Jacobsen is a man with his own hidden agenda.

Digital Wilderness by F.L. Ciano. Indie technothriller (2014).

Edward Phillips is at the top of his career at Virton Technologies developing cutting edge software systems for government contractors. His biggest stress is dodging the growing pressure he’s been getting from, Gabriella, his long-time girlfriend. She wants him to settle down, get married and have kids. Life is good, but is he ready for the big commitment?

The stakes change drastically when Edward accepts a sudden promotion to the corporate headquarters in Boston, taking him away from his tough personal decisions and introducing him to the mysterious Human Augmentation Digital Interface project. At first, HADI appears to be the perfect software to evolve humanity, touted to help the disabled walk again, allow the deaf to hear and the blind to see.

Then, Edward meets Noc. Suddenly Edward discovers that this benevolent technology has a steep price and he is thrown into a lethal game of corporate espionage that leads to a nationwide manhunt for a deadly spy, a charge his enemies are intent to pin on him.

Edward must sacrifice his freedom and risk everything he loves if he hopes to thwart Virton’s psychotic mastermind and save humanity from an insidious tool that will be able to control our very minds.

a Rafflecopter giveaway DIGITAL WILDERNESS by FL Ciano
American Jackal: A Troy Stoker, M.D. Psychiatry Thriller by Dr. Francis Bandettini and Matt Nilsen. Indie psychiatry thriller (2014).

Psychiatrist, Troy Stoker, M.D., bursts onto the psychiatry thriller landscape when his high-profile patient, the lieutenant governor-elect’s wife, makes a simple mistake that could cost her everything, including her life, and brings her face to face with an American jackal. In this confrontation with corruption, Ann Higgins stumbles into the underworld life of a high-ranking South Dakota statesman; and she catapults her psychiatrist, Troy Stoker, M.D., into the conflict. When her chilling discovery threatens to devastate a politician’s secret dominion, Ann ends up dangling from a makeshift noose and fighting for her survival, while plunging Dr. Stoker even deeper into the battle of minds, muscles and new tech. Dr. Stoker enlists Errol Rivera, a fellow physician and military attaché to help unravel the mystery and take on the challenges set before them. Together Stoker and Rivera use their brilliant intuition, psychiatric savvy and military skills to pursue the veiled, corrupt politician and hunt down his criminal pack. Still, Stoker is unaware that his Cuban-born, patriot friend, Rivera, is much more than a doctor with a hero’s past. At his command, Rivera unleashes an elite band of warriors who engage their training, guts, technology and weaponry to confront the corruption. Hold on and jump into this gritty thrill ride as the new hero, Troy Stoker, M.D., emerges in an explosive new political and psychiatry thriller, American Jackal.

The Bone Room (The Nocturnist Book 1) by James Vitarius. Indie medical thriller (2014).

Dr. Zeke Oswald thought he was getting a fresh start with his new job working the night shift in a small city hospital. Until, that is, he stumbles across a dead body in the middle of the night. One of the hospital’s nurses has been murdered and soon, beautiful yet inexperienced detective Selinda Bruchart is looking into Zeke’s involvement and his past. Zeke becomes an amateur sleuth and, with the help of hospital intern Patience McMorris, sets out to solve the crime and clear his name.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

**********

Do you enjoy thrillers with real science? Read Petroplague by Dr. Amy Rogers. Oil-eating bacteria contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city. “Compellingly written, technically literate” “top 5 on my best of 2011 list” “the science is utterly believable” “I couldn’t put this one down”

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Monthly Roundup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should you get an advance copy of REVERSION by Amy Rogers?

*Gene therapy, medical tourism, illicit drugs, black-market organs, killer chimpanzees, a dying child, and a $50,000 dog at an elite private hospital in Mexico*

“REVERSION has everything I love about science thrillers: an exotic setting, a brilliant protagonist, a terrifying villain, and a story that takes readers on a wild ride across the frontiers of science. It’s a fun, frightening, and memorable novel.” Mark Alpert, author of Extinction

On November 10, after three long years, my next science/medical thriller novel, Reversion, will finally go on sale. If you read and enjoyed Petroplague, or if you enjoy the kinds of books I review here at ScienceThrillers.com, then Reversion is for you.

Today I’m revealing the diabolical front cover of the coming paperback and ebook edition: REVERSIONfrontcover The final edition hasn’t been printed yet, but I do have Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) in paperback and digital formats. I would love to share these with two faithful readers of ScienceThrillers.com, in hopes that you will read them and spread the word about this sophisticated, timely new thriller novel.

To be selected to receive an ARC (in your choice of paper or ebook) of Reversion, leave a comment telling me why you should be the one to get an early copy. In the next week, I’ll choose two lucky readers!

Summary of Reversion:

Rabies kills. Can it also cure?

Tessa Price, PhD, knows what it’s like to lose a child to a genetic disease. To spare another mother this pain, she invents a radical new gene therapy that might save the life of seven-year-old Gunnar Sigrunsson. Unable to get regulatory approval to treat Gunnar in the US, she takes her clinical trial to the Palacio Centro Medico, a resort-like hospital on a Mexican peninsula where rich medical tourists get experimental treatments that aren’t available anywhere else.

When the hospital is taken over by a brutal drug cartel led by a man desperate for a kidney transplant, Tessa hides with a remarkable trio of Palacio clients—rich Texan Lyle Simmons, his much-younger Brazilian girlfriend, and his protection dog, a German shepherd named Dixie, only to learn that the gangsters aren’t the only deadly threat they face. A rabies-like infection that began in the Palacio’s research chimpanzees has spread to humans. Tessa investigates and finds a shocking connection to her gene therapy experiment. In the wake of this discovery, Tessa must weigh the value of one human life against another—including her own.

Pre-order for Kindle version available now. Other vendors and formats coming soon.

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, New releases | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

New release book review: SYNBIO by Leslie Alan Horvitz

ScienceThrillers.com book review of SYNBIO by Leslie Alan Horvitz.

BlueStar2

(30th percentile of SciThri)

Publication date: July 1, 2014
Category: science thriller
Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):

Biohazard5

Summary (from amazon listing):

Scientists now have the capacity to hack into DNA the same way that hackers can infiltrate computer systems, manipulating organisms by inserting new DNA or exploiting genetic mutations that can trigger fatal heart attacks or induce bipolar illness or Alzheimer’s. These “biohackers” as they’re known, can perform their experiments in their kitchens using equipment purchased for next to nothing on eBay. Most of these biohackers are like Seth Stringer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who’s made a name for himself exploring the frontiers of genetic manipulation. He’s young, brash, ambitious, and obsessed with his work, but also a little naive. When his former professor Marcus Adair holds out the possibility of coming to London and going to work for an international pharmaceutical company called Chimera, he jumps at the chance. He can make good money and cement his relationship with his girlfriend, who has misgivings about his future prospects as a breadwinner. He fails to realize until too late that the principal business of Chimera isn’t the manufacture of generic drugs but the production of lethal genetic products for well-heeled clients. These are used to assassinate or debilitate presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs using their own DNA against them-a method that not only makes it difficult to identify the perpetrator (a cold virus can deliver the engineered DNA) but makes it almost impossible to determine that a crime has been committed in the first place.

ScienceThrillers review:

I really wanted to love this book.

SynBio starts with a fantastic near-future premise. In SynBio, scientists can readily sequence individual people’s genomes (true). They can identify sequence variations that cause susceptibility to certain diseases (true). They can then design and deliver some kind of agent that will specifically trigger that individual’s disease susceptibility and kill them without a trace (not true in reality, but plausible SciThri).

Seth Stringer is a talented young scientist desperate for cash and recognition. He is unknowingly lured into a complex international scheme to apply his biohacking talents to the perfect murders of people in power. Simultaneously in the book, the reader follows the story of the other protagonist, a deeply flawed yet sympathetic Eugenie Tattersall, who “harvests” the targets’ DNA for sequencing. Seth and Eugenie’s paths cross later in the book.

Author Horvitz clearly knows a lot about science, and he uses that knowledge effectively in this story. There is plenty of it but not too much for SciThri fans (this is what we want, after all). The science is grounded in reality even when it gets a bit woolly with the details of how these personalized biological assassinations take place. Horvitz also writes good scenes and has created two reasonably well-developed characters in Seth and Eugenie. In outline form, most of the plot works.

But a novel is more than the sum of its parts, and as a whole, SynBio ultimately disappoints. The story starts well, despite the confusing use of a secondary character in the opening pages. About a third of the way in, things start to bog down. This reader felt that the climax and resolution should be coming a lot sooner than the page count suggested. Indeed, at about halfway through, the scenes felt repetitive, the overall plot not advancing much.

In the final third, a tough editor or critical reader was needed. A “twist” involving a federal agent seemed transparent to me from the start, and I found it implausible that Seth didn’t see it either. The book becomes ambitious in its global scale, but the writing doesn’t hold up. Lots of implausible small details culminate in a lengthy and unbelievable capture and escape sequence in North Korea. While the “travel” writing is obviously well-researched, the events were unbelievable (both in terms of practicality and motive) and unnecessary.

The ending failed to redeem the fraying narrative. Loose ends, such as Seth’s ex-girlfriend, are left untied. What should have been a satisfying exposure of evil falls flat, and the protagonists’ own story is left unresolved.

FCC disclaimer: A free digital copy of this book was given to me for review via NetGalley. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

Posted in Books, Full reviews, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New release book review: A DEADLY WANDERING by Matt Richtel

ScienceThrillers.com book review and giveaway of A DEADLY WANDERING: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel.

Scroll down to enter to win a paperback advance reader copy (ARC) of this new release signed by the author!

Publication date: September 14, 2014
Category: true crime; narrative nonfiction; science journalism

Summary (from the back cover):

A landmark exploration of the vast and expanding impact of technology, rivetingly told through the lens of a deadly collision

One of the year’s most original and masterfully reported books, A Deadly Wandering by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Matt Richtel interweaves the cutting-edge science of attention with the tensely plotted story of a mysterious car accident and its aftermath to answer some of the defining questions of our time: What is technology doing to us? Can our minds keep up with the pace of change? How can we find balance? Through Richtel’s beautifully constructed narrative, a complex and far-reaching topic becomes intimate and urgent—an important call to reexamine our own lives.

On the last day of summer, an ordinary Utah college student named Reggie Shaw fatally struck two rocket scientists while texting and driving along a majestic stretch of highway bordering the Rocky Mountains. Richtel follows Reggie from the moment of the tragedy, through the police investigation, the state’s groundbreaking prosecution (at the time there was little precedent to guide the court), and ultimately, Reggie’s wrenching admission of responsibility. Richtel parallels Reggie’s journey with leading-edge scientific findings regarding human attention and the impact of technology on our brains—showing how these devices, now thoroughly embedded into all aspects of our lives, play to our deepest social instincts and prey on parts of the brain that crave stimulation, creating loops of compulsion, even addiction.

Remarkably, today Reggie is a leading advocate who has helped spark a national effort targeting distracted driving, and the arc of his story provides a window through which Richtel pursues actionable solutions to help manage this crisis individually and as a society. A propulsive read filled with fascinating scientific detail, riveting narrative tension, and rare emotional depth, A Deadly Wandering is a book that can change—and save—lives.

ScienceThrillers review:

Matt Richtel is a science journalist who covers Silicon Valley for the New York Times. In 2009, he wrote a front page story about distracted driving. The story went viral in part because the subject touches so many of us. Richtel was one of the first to put a mirror in front of us, making us unwillingly recognize the ways in which we have allowed our technology to control us and to put us at risk both physically (while driving) and emotionally (in our relationships). His one story became a series, and a Pulitzer Prize followed.

Richtel is fascinated by our uneasy coexistence with digital connectedness and invasive communication. He has spun this interest and expertise beyond world-class journalism into fiction with several brilliant science thriller novels (see links to my reviews below). Now with the release of A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, Richtel brings his thoughtful, articulate writing to book-length narrative nonfiction.

A Deadly Wandering might change your life.

Most of the words in this book tell the stories of people affected by a horrible car wreck in Utah in 2006. The primary focus is on Reggie Shaw, a 19-year-old Everyman who was texting while driving and crossed the center line, killing two people. In the style of a well-written true crime tale, A Deadly Wandering explores the characters: Reggie, his family, the victims and their families, neighbors in the small community, law enforcement, legislators, judges, and jailers. These stories of tragedy and its aftermath make for a page-turning read.

But Richtel does more than tell the story of the 2006 crash. Using that incident as the example that illustrates the rule, Richtel weaves alternating chapters about the larger story of distracted driving and the even bigger story of our relationship with modern communications technology. With the help of neuroscientists who study the brain and its ability (or inability) to pay attention (some of the most interesting characters in this book), Richtel asks, why is it so hard to lock away the phone when we’re driving? Is social technology addictive? An extreme compulsion? Or simply habit forming?

The author says:

All the tweets and Facebook updates, the emails, the YouTube videos, and texts are not creating themselves. They are enabled by technology, sure. But they are driven by the humans pressing the buttons, asking for a tiny piece of the fractured spotlight.

He cites research that “the motivation to disclose our internal thoughts and knowledge to others” is inherent to our species. We have a deep, primitive desire to communicate. For millennia, our technical ability to give and receive communication was proportional to our brain’s ability to process it. This is no longer the case. Each click, each ping, “gives a little rush, a tiny dopamine squirt,” a narcotic-like pleasure to our brains, but our attention is overwhelmed.

A Deadly Wandering also explores questions of justice and forgiveness, and the emergence of legislation to restrict phone use while driving. Richtel highlights the problem that hands-free cell phone use is no less distracting than holding a phone to your ear, and that automakers are introducing ever more distracting technologies into the cockpits of our cars, and that from a neurological perspective, multitasking is a myth.

After reading this book, I’ve examined my own use of social technology and am approaching not only cell phone use in the car but all my digital interactions with a new trepidation. The message, I think, is one we all pay lip service to but are challenged to act upon: Be fully with the people in your presence. Simplify. And pay attention.

Read the ScienceThrillers reviews of Matt Richtel’s novels:
The Cloud; Floodgate; Devil’s Plaything

a Rafflecopter giveaway

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Full reviews, New releases | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Author Guest Post: Kelly Parsons of DOING HARM

ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Kelly Parsons in a guest post discussing his debut novel, the medical thriller Doing Harm. Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins, and he is on the faculty at the University of California San Diego. He lives with his family in Southern California.

If you like the sound of Doing Harm, scroll down to enter to win a free hardcover copy!

Summary: There are many ways to die in a hospital…being sick is only one of them.

Chief resident Steve Mitchell is the quintessential surgeon: ambitious, intelligent, confident. Charged with molding a group of medical trainees into doctors, and in line for a coveted job, Steve’s future is bright. But then a patient mysteriously dies, and it quickly becomes clear that a killer is on the loose in his hospital. A killer set on playing a deadly game with Steve. A killer holding information that could ruin his career and marriage. Now, alone and under a cloud of suspicion, Steve must discover a way to outsmart his opponent and save the killer’s next victim before the cycle repeats itself again and again…

A chilling and compelling thriller that also takes you into the hospital and details the politics and hierarchy among doctors, as well as the life and death decisions that are made by flawed human beings.

*****
Guest post by author Kelly Parsons

While there was no particular incident in my life that sparked the idea for DOING HARM, I’ve been in the medical field for over 20 years now, and much of what I’ve experienced informs specific elements of the book. The descriptions of the diseases, surgeries, and surgical complications are about as real I could make them. I wanted to convey a truthful sense of what it’s like to be in an operating room.

I also wove some of the internal politics of large, traditional teaching hospitals into the story.

A central focus of DOING HARM is patient safety. It’s a topic I’ve been interested in for many years. Bad things happen to patients every day that have nothing to do with being sick, and some of the characters experience those complications in a very realistic, very frightening way.

I mostly conceived DOING HARM as entertainment. I want readers to enjoy the ride. But while the specific circumstances of the story are pure fiction, patient safety is an important issue facing modern medicine today. I think the medical community has made substantial progress in recognizing and fixing these problems, but we still have a long way to go.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New release book review: NO TIME TO DIE by Kira Peikoff

ScienceThrillers.com book review and giveaway of NO TIME TO DIE by Kira Peikoff.

Scroll down to enter to win an advance reader copy, 2 available!

BlueStar3

(very good; top 50% of SciThri)

Publication date: August 26, 2014 Category: science thriller Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):

Biohazard5

Summary (from the back cover):

In a Washington, D.C. research lab, a brilliant scientist is attacked by his own test subjects. At Columbia University, a talented biochemist is lured out of her apartment and never seen again. In the Justice Department’s new Bioethics Committee, agent Les Mahler sees a sinister pattern emerging…

Zoe Kincaid is a petite college student whose rare genetic makeup may hold the key to a powerful medical breakthrough. When she is kidnapped, the very thing mankind has wanted since the dawn of time threatens to unleash our final destruction.

ScienceThrillers review:

No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff (author website) is a slick, well-paced, well-written thriller that should satisfy fans of science thrillers. This is a book that I enjoyed reading and was eager to pick up again. A classic beach read: fast, intriguing, not too demanding, and nicely wrapped up in the end.

No Time to Die balances several point of view characters. The main protagonist, but not the only one, is Zoe Kincaid. Zoe is twenty years old but as we learn in the opening chapters, she stopped aging biologically at fourteen. To Zoe, this arrested development seems a curse as she is trapped in a child’s body. To others, it looks like the Holy Grail of anti-aging research: a natural mutation in the “master regulator gene” which controls development to adulthood and then beyond into the dysfunction of old age. If the responsible genes or mutations could be identified in Zoe’s DNA, human existence might be fundamentally changed.

Zoe’s first conflict is with her parents, who are strangely resistant to finding answers to what ails her, and to letting her seek help when answers are found. In the absence of their support, and with the tacit approval of her beloved, sympathetic grandfather, she takes matters into her own hands. But forces beyond her comprehension are at work and she becomes embroiled in a battle between The Network, a group which makes scientists disappear, and sends taunting postcards to their opponents, the Justice Department’s Bioethics Committee.

No Time to Die dabbles lightly in some larger themes. Peikoff’s characters briefly comment on the profound implications of a successful therapy to stop humans from growing old, but the analysis remains superficial. Interestingly, Peikoff takes a stand about regulation of science that is contrary to the zeitgeist of a lot of popular entertainment: scientists are not always the “bad guys,” and sometimes those who impose restrictions on scientific investigation with the intention of protecting the public are not, in fact, doing what is best for the public. (Peikoff’s father was a close associate of Ayn Rand, and a staunch advocate of laissez faire.)

Peikoff confidently and competently incorporates science into this story. There is enough techno-lingo, correctly used, to thrill the SciThri fan, but not too much to turn off the non-scientist reader. As is true with all good science thrillers, the author takes liberties with scientific timelines (you can’t make knockout mice in a few weeks, or even months) and details (such as the current impossibility of altering genes in an adult human, even when a mutation is known), but this is done in the service of telling a story.

In many ways, No Time to Die deserved a four-star rating from ScienceThrillers.com but a variety of subtle issues weakened the narrative for me. To begin, I felt some confusion about the main character Zoe’s mental age. Does she have the mental maturity of a an early teen, or a young adult? This is important because it’s a legal question in the story, and also because the reader is trying to interpret her actions and motivations, which alternately appear childish and adult. Should the reader support the characters who infantilize the girl because she really cannot make her own decisions, or should the reader root for Zoe’s emancipation? Minor points: Zoe’s seizure disorder is used as a plot device for tension but is ignored in the question of what the effects of her genetic mutation might be; she is described repeatedly as being short and having the body of a child, but if she stopped aging at 14, that seems unlikely. Most of the 14-year-old girls I know are well-developed and approaching their adult height. A more believable age of developmental arrest would be 12, or even 10. The motivation of the story’s villain is not believable. This is not how sadistic psychopaths are made (if they are made at all, not just born). To avoid spoilers, I can’t describe a key plot element but I found the setup hard to swallow, especially the aspect that involves people with no ties binding them to the world around them.

On the positive side, a hero is introduced in this book who is very appealing, and his re-appearance in Peikoff’s next novel will be welcome.

No Time to Die is a worthy addition to the SciThri genre. If you’re looking for the perfect thing to keep you occupied on your next long flight, this is an excellent choice.

By the way, Ms. Peikoff, the next thing I’m going to do is look up Ulysses by Tennyson–it’s been years since I read it. Thanks for the reminder.

Unusual words: growth plates; genome sequencing; microarray; master regulator gene; knockout; epigenetics

a Rafflecopter giveaway

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Full reviews, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SciThri new releases: August 2014

This month’s roundup of newly-released, or new to me, indie science & medical thrillers.  These books are among the many I don’t have time to read and review, but genre fans might enjoy.

If you are an author or publicist and would like your book listed, contact me with title, author, release date, weblinks, and summary. Only books with scientific or medical themes or characters will be included. Ask me about hosting a giveaway raffle on your behalf (paper books only).

SciThri New (or new to me) Releases:

**********

BioKill: A Matt Lilburn novel by Stuart Handley. Indie action thriller with science (2014).

Takfir wal-Hijra is one of the most extreme Islamist groups on the planet; they call for their followers to train in the use of arms, to blend in with their surrounds and to be sleepers within foreign communities ready to awaken and cause maximum mayhem.
Follow the path of a contagious virus as it is purposely extracted from one country to another before landing on American soil. When Homeland special agent, Matt Lilburn gets involved, terrorism has one heck of a fight on its hands.

**********

Do you enjoy thrillers with real science? Read Petroplague by Dr. Amy Rogers. Oil-eating bacteria contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city. “Compellingly written, technically literate” “top 5 on my best of 2011 list” “the science is utterly believable” “I couldn’t put this one down”

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Monthly Roundup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Indie book review: A LIFE UNBROKEN by K.M. Hewitt

Book review of A Life Unbroken by K.M. Hewitt.
Indie revenge thriller with science themes. No star rating given for indies. (Why?)


SUMMARY (from amazon): As the sole witness to a devastating accident at a secret Biological Weapons Lab, Alex McKay vanishes while on assignment in South America. Six years later… through luck and a twist of fate… she resurfaces in the U.S. with a new name, a new face and a new identity. Alex has a frightening story to tell and she knows it could send shockwaves throughout the nation and world… if she lives long enough to tell it.

ScienceThrillers Review: Author K.M. Hewitt and I share a favorite book: Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. A Life Unbroken is a thriller clearly modeled on Dumas’s classic tale of wrongful imprisonment, transformation, empowerment, and revenge.

In this book, PhD plant biologist Alex (a tribute to Alexandre?) McKay stumbles into knowledge of an illegal biological weapons laboratory. Her enemies attempt to destroy her to protect themselves, but miraculously she returns to plot her revenge.

STRENGTHS: The character of Alex McKay, written in the intimate first person voice, is the best part of this book. Although incredible things happen to her, Alex is a believable character and a person we can both relate to and admire. Hewitt writes well and transports the reader from the comfort of McKay’s home to the horrors of Prision del perdido to the corridors of power in Washington, DC. The emotional impact of Alex’s horrific betrayal resonate strongly. This is a nightmare anyone can understand, and fear–the fear of total loss and abandonment.

WEAKNESSES: While the overall plot is sound, weakness in the details of execution make it hard for the reader to immerse in the story. For example, the villain has power that seems disproportionate to his status as a Senator (at first it appears he is a state senator in California, which made it even less believable). He is also shown to be the US President’s Chief of Staff, a full-time job that would not be held by a Senator and is not consistent with his personal meddling in biological weaponry (an involvement which is never explained). The bioweapons lab is suggested to be a BSL4 facility but is not portrayed in a way to represent the complexity and structural integrity such facilities require. The aftermath of the accident at the lab also is unrealistic: the involved scientists wandering about the broken facility, the disease outbreak which any skilled epidemiologist would have identified as man-made. The final scenes which culminate in McKay’s revenge are workable but in plot detail do not stand up to scrutiny, and thus do not provide the satisfying punch the reader craves.

Summary: A contemporary tribute to The Count of Monte Cristo with a strong female protagonist and a new writer’s voice that is likely to strengthen with future novels.

FCC disclaimer: A free copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

Posted in Full reviews, Indie reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment