Friday, September 13, 2013

While Not Quite Achieving Its Title, 'Brilliance' is a Smart Read -- Book Review

Book Review

a novel by Marcus Sakey

I can't provide any attribution on this, but I recall Marcus Sakey being referenced somewhere as the best Chicago-based contemporary crime fiction writer.

I have to imagine that anyone who has bestowed such praise on Sakey is not only more familiar with his work than I, but also that of local practitioners in the same realm.

For while I might also grant him that accolade, it's because I really don't know many other Chicago-based crime fiction--or suspense, thriller, etc.--authors.

There's one writer, Sam Reaves, who I met at the Printers' Row Lit Fest a few years ago and from whom I bought a signed copy of Mean Town Blues, which I liked. And Sara Paretsky seems to have a higher profile than Sakey, but I haven't read any of her works.

But though I am giving Sakey's latest, Brilliance, @@@@ (out of 5) and proclaiming it a worthwhile read from a talented author, based on his work that I do know it appears that others--including many reviewers on Amazon--hold him in considerably greater esteem.

A few years ago after having him come to my attention, I started to read his 2006 novel, Good People. But it never really hooked me and I gave up on it midway through.

And while I liked Brilliance, it wasn't a blaze-through-it-in-a-week-or-less page turner like books by favorites Lee Child, Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay. Towards the end of Brilliance, I couldn't wait to keep reading, but though it kept me interested enough throughout to stick with it, I wasn't all that enraptured for the first 300 pages or so.

Brilliance is based in the present day, but its title refers to human beings who are--to my awareness--science fictional in nature. In what seems like a metaphor for any number of minority groups, Sakey surmises a significant, though quite relatively small, population of people who are exceptionally gifted in different ways. Not as piano prodigies or math whizzes, nor as super-strong beings--though I couldn't help think of the X-Men--but with less obvious advanced capabilities.

The book's protagonist, Nick Cooper, is a "brilliant," or--as more disparagingly referenced since they represent a threatening minority to those without special gifts--an "abnorm" or a "twist." He is blessed with extraordinary "patterning" powers, which lets him instantly deduce what someone is thinking or about to do by their gestures, most commonly subconscious ones.

Working for a covert government organization--something akin to a Black Ops division of the CIA--Cooper is charged with tracking down "twists" who have engaged in terrorist behavior. I won't reveal too much else, but there are plot twists that reminded a bit of the TV shows 24 and Alias. That's not a bad thing, but one of the reasons I don't feel Brilliance is absolutely superb is because it doesn't feel entirely new.

And though I agree with the let's-all-live-together-with-tolerance-and-respect ideals that I believe are behind Sakey's metaphorical narrative, at times the messaging--and proselytizing--feels a bit too obvious and heavy-handed.

Still, simply as a thriller, Brilliance manages to be inventive and works rather well.

Not well enough to quite meet the promise of its title, nor even enough to inspire me to read the preview of Book 2 in the series that I discovered at the end of this one. But the writing is sharp with a number of shrewd observations, the overall theme is worthwhile (if excessively overt) and the action is crisp if not quite Usain Boltish.

So, long story short, if you're reading a great mystery, thriller, suspense novel, detective story, crime fiction book, etc., it may well be as good as this one, if not even better. But if you need a suggestion--particularly for a new release that's only $4.99 for a Kindle download--you could probably do a lot worse than pursuing Brilliance.

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