Review: Thought-provoking thriller

Take one part brilliant-scientist-gone-rogue, one part revenge-thriller, and one part snarky-narrator-with-everything-to-lose, mix them together, and you’ll get Always Adam.

From the start, I loved the writer’s voice. Spencer Beck’s voice reminds me of a noir antihero combined with a tinge of Tom Sawyer: simultaneously cynical and guileless, skeptical and eager.

By the end of the first chapter, I was completely hooked, reeled in, and ready to eat or be eaten by this story. It ate my plans for the day, that’s for certain. I couldn’t stop reading.

Things keep getting worse and worse for Spencer. First he isn’t on the guest list to Adam’s party (though the mysterious MI5-connected Simon assured him that he was). Adam’s nasty valet damages his Porsche. Later he finds the car stolen and dumped outside the pub where he had a pint or two. Then he winds up in jail overnight for DUI. And Simon keeps breaking into his apartment to leave things–a burner phone, tickets, whatever he needs to investigate Adam Reid. Each time this happens, the creepy-factor increases, and it’s unnerving for both Spencer and the reader. The guy can’t get a break. He seems to be at the mercy of an all-powerful person, but who is Simon?

And then ex-cop Daniel Flanagan arrives. Flanagan recounts the story of Adam’s parents’ murder-suicide. It was a gruesome scene. The forensic details about the murder ring true to me, though I’m not an expert. Flanagan is just as fascinating a character as Spencer. In some ways, he appears to be the cliched ex-cop: alone, bitter, haunted by what he did or left undone on this case. But Brumby gives this character a good deal of depth, too.

Spencer isn’t certain he can trust the words of an embittered ex-cop with a tainted record. But if what Flanagan says about Adam Reid is true, it’s a huge story. A career-making story–or a career-ending one. Spencer, badly in need of a breakthrough in his journalistic career, can’t resist the siren call of the story. He has to investigate. If that means Flanagan tags along, so be it. I enjoyed watching them learning to trust each other.

Brumby continually raises the stakes, creating a situation that the journalist and ex-cop find increasingly difficult to navigate. Questions pile up. The more Spencer investigates, the closer he comes to Adam Reid. Adam has a cult-like following among his investors. In their eyes, he can do no wrong. It’s simultaneously amusing and alarming to watch Spencer try to fake it until he makes it. Only this is a deadly game, and faking it might mean he doesn’t make it.

The story races forward, particularly after Spencer arrives in New York City. Even when the “action” is mostly dialogue, Brumby uses the combination of setting (an eerily-deserted American Museum of Natural History), characters, and dialogue to heighten the tension to an almost unbearable level. The denouement is a bit ambiguous, though. Spencer and the reader never receive answers to every question.

All the same, it’s a fitting end. Brumby forces us to think about how humans try to advance their world through science and forces us to grapple with the questions for ourselves. Always Adam is a thought-provoking thriller that shows the consequences and costs of these scientific achievements. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes techno-thrillers.

Meredith Rankin

Book Tour: Always Adam by Mark Brumby