by Stephenie Meyer
What does a writer do after hitting the jackpot? Well, in this case, she does something new. After taking the teen market by storm in the mid noughties, scooping awards and breaking records (and dawn) with both books and film adaptations of her Twilight Saga, Stephenie Meyer has cleverly switched genre.
Whatever you might think of supernatural themes, vampire/human romances in particular – and I do have my reservations – there is no denying that Ms Meyer can tell a good story. And the romance of Bella and Edward, suspension of disbelief aside, is a good story.
The Chemist, Meyer’s new thriller, is a good story too. There are no vampires, no werewolves or shapeshifters, but there is plenty of darkness and quite a lot of blood.
The main protagonist is Alex. That isn’t her real name but it’s the one used throughout most of the book. Alex is a doctor, though not the sort of doctor you generally think of when you see or hear that word. She is a chemist [she is THE chemist} specialising in drugs, gases and poisons, and she uses her knowledge and skill to torture people. The organisation she used to work for, a clandestine operation of the American government, uses her to extract secrets from its enemies, specifically those who pose terrorist threats against the USA.
Alex is good at her job, too good, and now she’s on the run. The ‘department’ is out to get her. In order to do so, they feed her a fake story about a threat to release a deadly flu virus into the population, This is to be one last job to get her off the hook. Alex is suspicious but nevertheless cautiously takes the bait. In the course of the operation she meets Daniel, apparently a harmless school teacher. At first, their relations are not exactly friendly! However, as time goes by, something changes.
The Chemist is the kind of novel that contains lots of surprises thus to tell more of the plot at this stage would be a mega spoiler. Suffice to say, it involves a large cast of characters, most of them bad-ass villains and some just as deadly as Alex herself. What starts as an uneasy alliance between Alex, Daniel, Kevin, an ex-CIA agent and Val, a beautiful callgirl, develops into a race against time to expose the high-powered bad guys and liquidate them. There are several dogs in the cast too – Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds and others, though they mostly work on the side of goodness and light.
None of the methods used by the heroes to get justice are nice, though it must be said that Alex and Co do try not to kill any innocent people (or animals). The question is not so much will they win, but can all of them possibly come out of this alive? The Chemist is a racy thriller, with lots of action. The pace alternates between light speed and crawl, the former sometimes almost too fast to follow, the latter too slow for reader comfort. Yet even there, it matters; be tempted into skimming and you may miss something of vital importance to the resolution.
At around 520 pages in its hardback edition, The Chemist is rather long in my view for the kind of novel it is. If violent death in literary form makes you squeamish, don’t read it. However, if you like superheroes of the non-supernatural kind and psychotic bloodthirsty villains, this is one for you. Stephenie Meyer has developed her writing craft far beyond the days when Bella was smooching Edward in her upstairs bedroom. Her talent as a storyteller was always there but in The Chemist she has taken it to a new adult level altogether.