BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ex-cop Travis Chase becomes entangled with Tangent, a secret organization tasked with studying mysterious alien artifacts.
PROS: Fast-paced and thrilling; flawed-but-likable characters; interesting plot twists; sense of wonder; thought-provoking situations; never a dull passage.
CONS: The science is indistinguishable from magic.
BOTTOM LINE: A fantastic read from start to finish.
I don’t envy the job of book marketer. Part of their job is categorizing books so that the greatest number of target readers find them. This is all well and good when the novel sits comfortably entrenched within the confines of a particular genre, but much harder as the genre lines become blurred. The danger is that a particular book may not find the right audience if the marketing doesn’t steer it that way.
This is all a roundabout way of explaining why I overlooked Patrick Lee’s The Breach when it came out late last year. The decidedly non-sf cover and synopsis is aimed squarely at the mainstream thriller fiction market. Travis Chase, an ex-cop (and a dirty one at that), stumbles upon a plane wreck in the Alaskan wilderness where he finds the First Lady of the United States holding a mysterious note in her dead hand. The note pleads for someone to rescue the surviving hostages…a compelling request that entangles Travis in the mysterious operations of a secret group known as Tangent.
There’s nothing science fictional at all in that description, a publicity decision that led this science fiction fan to assume that the book was meant for a mainstream thriller audience. The only reason The Breach was given a second look is because of the undeniably-sf synopsis of the just-received sequel, Ghost Country. I’m glad I took that second look, because The Breach is a fantastic read from start to finish.
It’s only mildly spoilery to say how the book is science fiction since that becomes evident within the first sixty pages. The Breach of the title is a doorway to another universe from which powerful and dangerous artifacts emerge. The Tangent organization is tasked with examining these artifacts and studying the Breach in the remote location of Border Town, a facility set up for that very purpose. It’s a super-secret operation that’s been in existence for decades, but now it’s under attack by someone bent on world domination. And considering the amazing abilities of the artifacts, it just might happen.
The Breach is everything a thriller should be: fast-moving, filled with several scenes of well-described action and genuine suspense, and peppered with (mostly) unexpected plot twists. It also has qualities that mark a good science fiction book: technological sense of wonder, a few well-trodden tropes that are nevertheless expertly deployed, and thought-provoking situations. And like any good novel, it has memorable, well-drawn characters. Chase’s dark past haunts him throughout the story. Paige Campbell’s determination and strength are to be lauded. Other characters, well, they don’t really matter all that much and so are stereotypically drawn. All things considered, you wouldn’t think this is Lee’s first novel by the looks of it because it defies any reasonable interpretation of the so-called First Novel Syndrome. The worst that could be said about the novel is that the science behind the artifacts remains unexplained – a point that can easily be overlooked because you’re turning pages too fast to let it dampen the thrill.
I do wonder if the apparently-targeted mainstream audience would be put off by the science fictional elements of The Breach. At the same time, I suspect science fiction fans will easily enjoy the sf thrill ride.