Pros: Unusual protagonist, lots of tension, perplexing mystery, satisfying and well plotted revelations, fun pop culture references, slightly unexpected change of direction.
Cons: Some of the supporting cast such as Neil and Sasha could use more personality.
Bottom Line: The Fold is a cinematic mystery/thriller that is bound to please fans of Clines and earn him many more.
The key to getting this review right will be not giving too much because the fun comes from piecing together the mystery as the story progresses. I can safely say that fans of Peter Clines will be delighted to read The Fold. He is a creative writer with his finger on the pulse of pop culture, and I enjoyed Peter’s superheroes vs. zombies Ex series. Despite this, none of the Ex books quite compare to the twisty, mysterious, thrilling awesomeness of 14, a book that would read like Lost had the show runners known where they were going with the series, and The Fold is a successor to 14, in a number of ways.
The Fold is the story of Leland “Mike” Erikson. Mike has a unique ability, a gift and a curse, that he has spent his entire life trying to ignore, and he has been mostly successful at avoiding his full potential until an old school friend approaches him in need of a favor. Mike initially turns down the request for help, unwilling to unleash his abilities for fear that be might be unable to ever return to a “normal” life. Eventually his curiosity (and a little political maneuvering) get the better of him and Mike finds himself investigating a mystery revolving around what might be the greatest scientific discovery ever made.
The first half of The Fold reads like a Michael Crichton novel but with less technical jargon. I couldn’t help but think back to Crichton’s Prey. Fifty-percent of The Fold is straight up techno thriller. The DARPA researchers have made a seemingly impossible scientific breakthrough — they have invented a device that is able to defy space and time by opening doors across realities. On the surface everything seems fine. The scientists are looking for more government funding, but if the device is able to accomplish what they say it can then soon money will be of no matter. Still, there exists some concern at the lack of oversight the project is receiving. That’s where Mike comes in.
Mike is a fun and unusual protagonist — even the anecdote behind his seemingly ordinary (if misplaced) nickname makes an interesting story. Mike has an eidetic memory — he can recall images, sounds, or objects with high precision after minimal exposure. Because of this, Mike is brilliant without even trying. Doctor Spencer Reid from the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds is a notable example of a character with this ability. While reading The Fold, I couldn’t help but consider eidetic memory to be anything short of a super power. Clines writes this ability in a way that is easy to grasp for those of us that couldn’t remember where we set the keys last night but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating to read about. He also succeeds at showing the negative side to having an eidetic memory, and it becomes easy to understand why Mike would want to distance himself from it. It also becomes easy to understand why it makes him the perfect person to investigate the Defense Department’s teleportation/portal project.
Much of the early tension comes from Mike’s status as an outsider amongst a very insular group. The scientists attached to the Albuquerque Door (the name for the portal) have been working together, in secret, for years, and should the project succeed, the group will go down in history as pioneers and heroes. Should the project fail, however, they will be blacklisted by the government and exiled by the scientific community for practicing pseudo-science. They resent Mike because his report back to the program director could see their funding cut, the project shut down, and their careers end in disgrace. It’s obvious from the start that they are hiding something from Mike but he has to discern what?
About halfway through The Fold the novel veers off in a different direction than some might suspect. It’s a direction that I wasn’t totally unprepared for and I believe that fans of Peter Clines will be ecstatic when they figure it out. I hesitate to say much more than that because I’d prefer readers to enter The Fold with as few preconceived notions as possible. The mystery of it all is key, and unravelling it through all the tension and well plotted revelations is a treat. The pacing is near perfect, and I burned through The Fold in a few long sittings. Whereas 14 would work well as a mini-series on SyFy, The Fold is highly cinematic.