After two biblically oriented novels,  reading a novel set in our millennium with all the techno stuff and modern mores was a welcome change.

Author :  Lincoln Child

Publication Date :  October 31, 2006

Publisher :  Anchor

ISBN-10: 0307275566

ISBN-13: 978-0307275561

No. of  Pages :  416


The Story :

Consider this :  a matchmaker that can faultlessly predict your soul mate.   No more senseless dates, no uncomfortable and embarrassing encounters, no more guessing games.  Meet the spouse of your dreams!  For a service worth every penny,  Eden Inc., provides its daily hopefuls with matches made in heaven.  The secret behind this behemoth company’s success is a sentient computer program that can, aside from finding perfect couples,  creatively develop its own problem-solving skills and learn from its mistakes.

But Eden Inc.’s smug confidence cracks  when a very happily matched couple  (with a rare compatibility rating of  a hundred percent) is found dead with what looks like a double suicide.  The company hires a forensic psychologist, Christopher Lash, to investigate the tragedy of such a perfect union.

No motives or inclinations for self destruction nor murder appear to explain the deaths and Lash is stymied. The company seems puzzled as well.  And then, the next super couple is found dead, too, from suicide.  Lash intensifies his hunt; but the perpetrator launches a detrimental campaign against him.  As Lash works obsessively to piece the impossible enigma together,  someone with the clout and technology, changes his personal data so that Lash finds himself in a dangerous mess.  He must solve the riddle of the deaths to save himself as well.

The Review :

The first chapter opens with the neighbour resolving to investigate why the Thorpe baby, who hardly ever cries,  is unendingly squalling next door.  She enters the house and sees that:

“…the infant was strapped tightly into her high chair, facing the living room.  The little face was mottled from crying, and the cheeks were stained with mucus and tears.  Maureen rushed forward.  “Oh you poor thing.”…. she fished for a tissue, cleaned the child’s face.

But the crying did not ease.  The baby was pounding her little fists, staring fixedly ahead, inconsolable.

It took quite some time to wipe the red face clean, and by the time she was done Maureen’s ears were ringing with the noise.  It wasn’t until she was pushing the tissue back into the pocket of her jeans that she thought to follow the child’s line of sight into the living room.

And when she did, the cry of the child, the crash of china as she dropped the cookies, were instantly drowned by the sound of her screams.”

This ends the first chapter after which the reader is hooked and reeled in to read some more and find out : “What did the neighbour see?”.  It isn’t until chapter five that the author reveals what could possibly have frightened the neighbour.  By this time, one is already riveted enough to keep the pages turning.

Here we have death, mystery, impossibilities, and an enigma that seems to defy logical explanations.  The reader is compelled to turn page after page to see how the author resolves the quandary at which he keeps the reader wondering as well.

Unfortunately , the whodunit aspect of the story unravels to a disappointing revelation.  Perhaps this reviewer is simply jaded by the same plot ending as those of numerous science fiction movies on artificial intelligence, which have been popping up for several years now.  The conclusion seems to be a hackneyed modification of many a techno thriller with sentient computers as their focus.

Perhaps, if the A.I. theme were new and less explored, this book would be a blockbuster with a great, surprise ending.  But since this isn’t the case anymore, it’s a “roll-your-eyes”, “aww…not again” story that may make some want to throw the book after having had their anticipation built up most of the way.

This doesn’t take away, though , Child’s superb skill for suspense-thriller writing.  Being half of the great Preston-Child writing partnership of many outstanding suspense-mystery-thrillers, Child is no average author of this genre.  He does know how to grip one’s attention, build incredulity and suspense, and elicit steady page-turning well into the night.  For this novel, he cranks out at full speed all the way through the finish line; although around one-eighth of the way before the end, the effects are diminished considerably by the corny predictability of it all.

Please bear in mind, however, that this review is from a perspective of one who is simply tired of the same themes on artificial intelligence in science fiction stories.  If you have not yet been overly fed with a such a diet, this novel would be a terrific one to lose yourself in.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Since I can’t discuss what I mean by the same A.I. theme without the revealing the spoiler, the reader will just have to find out by himself.  (I’m sure those who’ve had a good share of sci-fi movies, know by now what I’m talking about.)  Again,  if you haven’t watched much on computers and robots, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this novel to its very end.  Otherwise, be prepared for a mediocre landing.

In A Nutshell :

It’s all about The End.  Here’s wishing that the author, having come up with a very strong beginning and having been able to sustain its pounding plot with irresistibly interesting events, chose his villain more creatively  in order to bring this book to a table-slapping, satisfying conclusion.

Once more, despite its mostly exhilarating eventualities and puzzling “whos”, “hows”, and “whys”, I must rate “Death Match” with the feeling it left me after I’ve turned the last page.

My Mark :  Good (Could have been better…)

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This book is best read alone, in a cold room under a giant comforter for several hours straight.

Author :  Scott Smith

Copyright: 2006

Publisher: Vintage Books

Published Date :  February 26, 2008

ISBN-10: 0307390276

ISBN-13: 978-0307390271

Paperback:  384 pages

Two young American couples are on their summer vacation in Cancun, Mexico.  They befriend other tourists, one of who plans to make a sidetrip to look for his brother at an archeological site.  Bored by inaction, they volunteer to accompany him for the chance to trek and see the Mayan ruins and the dig.  What starts out as a fun trip transforms into a nightmare from which there seems to be no escape.

As a writer of horror and suspense,  Scott Smith does know his stuff.  He has very good techniques that build up suspense, anticipation, and shock so that you have the strong compulsion to read ’til the very end.

For me, reading this book is like riding a roller coaster.  The first 100 pages is a slow ride to the top with occasional minor jerks to keep you interested.  Once there, the action starts and you get to taste the first belly-flopping fright.  After that there is no let-up, as the ride just gets frightfully worse, without recourse to stopping and you can’t help but grip the book, page after page of unputdownable horror.

As you face each hill and think it can’t be any worse, Smith continues to up the ante until the ride coasts gently to a complete stop and the story reaches a good conclusion.

As an aside, Smith’s real forte here is the psychological aspect of the story.  He involves you in the thinking processes of four characters by getting you inside their heads, allowing you to know how they think; so that you know why they cope the way they do, and why things happen from choices dictated by their personalities.  The author lays out how their individual coping mechanisms largely determines the group’s dynamics as the characters try to solve or adjust to their situation.  This psychological angle combined with the paranormal plus Smith’s eloquent yet graphically vivid style, makes this book a winner.

You finish, shaky but elated that you’ve paid well for an exciting fright.  Indeed, you’ll be back wanting more.  So, when the next Scott Smith ride comes to town, you’ll be the first in line.

My Mark :  One hell of a ride! — Outstanding