Matthew Willis's Reviews > The Chemical Detective

The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine
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it was amazing

Smart, sexy and utterly compelling

There’s a scene near the beginning of Fiona Erskine’s thriller The Chemical Detective shortly after we meet the titular character, Dr Jaq Silver, that tells you what kind of book you’re holding. It’s the morning after the night before, during which Jaq met an attractive stranger, when we catch up with her, in the flat of the now naked, now-not-so-stranger. It’s a Hollywood-sexy introduction to an independent, dynamic character who knows what she wants and goes for it. But Jaq needs something from her bag, and when we’re introduced to the bag – almost a character in its own right – and the contents, which include, among the things you’d usually expect, sandpaper, Allen keys, duct tape, a fold-up kite, a packet of dried apricots and a green marble. That’s Jaq. Practical, fun, human... real.

Jaq is an explosives expert at an Alpine research centre studying artificial glaciers. She knows her stuff, and while a facet of her character that gets her into trouble is her propensity to regard rules as guidelines, she’s definitely no identikit maverick. This being a thriller, it isn’t long before we start to get into explosions, chases, fights and a sequence of glamorous and not-so-glamorous settings, but two things set The Chemical Detective apart. One is Jaq, who is instantly engaging with all her foibles and unique knowledge, and the other is the science. That’s right – it’s science that makes this book sparkle. While Jaq knows her stuff, author Fiona Erskine really knows her stuff, having worked in chemical engineering since she graduated from university. But more than that, she knows how to take real, practical science and weave it into a pulse-pounding story. A lot of people I meet seem to think of facts as something that get in the way of good fiction. This is a perennial debate in genres such as crime and science fiction, where there are those with the notion that getting the detail right must lead to inherently boring books. In the hands of an author with Erskine’s skill, subjects like chemical engineering can provide fertile ground for compelling fiction – and The Chemical Detective is utterly compelling. If you need proof of how chemical formulae, radioactive half-lives and the safety processes that led to a real life nuclear disaster can weave into an absorbing novel, look no further than the Chemical Detective.

The book centres around a shadowy group moving illegal chemicals internationally, by means and for reasons unknown, but which involves a brutal chemist-cum-trucker-cum-hitman and a genuinely scary puppetmaster. At the centre is a multinational chemicals company, Zagrovyl, with boss Frank Good at the helm, whose involvement in it all is as murky as the caper itself. Jaq stumbles across the plot and is soon drawn into a world even more dangerous than her day job, which is saying something, given the latter involves explosives and deliberately triggering avalanches. From the moment Jaq is snared, the pace doesn’t let up for a moment. To call The Chemical Detective page-turning would be an understatement. At times my proof resembled a flickbook. The narrative twists and turns will keep even the most clued-in reader guessing, and the cast of characters are so individual and true to life you’ll feel you’ve really met them. Some of them you’ll be glad you haven’t, for which special mention goes to the über-creep Frank Good and the chilling Spider.

I tore through The Chemical Detective, enjoyed every moment and was sorry when it was over. Can’t wait for Jaq’s return in the next installment.
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Reading Progress

February 18, 2019 – Started Reading
February 28, 2019 – Shelved
February 28, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Sandra I'm hands over eyes about reading reviews until 2nd April

Matthew Willis Sandra wrote: "I'm hands over eyes about reading reviews until 2nd April

Understandable - but I don't think you'll be disappointed :-)

Sandra Me neither!

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