The First to Lie, by author and reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan, is an engaging and twisting domestic thriller. Initially, we follow Ellie, an investigative journalist (like the author herself!) newly relocated to Boston for a job at the brand-new Channel 11 News. Her first big story aims to take on a massive pharmaceutical company for misleading patients about its new miracle drug. Not only is Pharminex pushing it for off-label use as a fertility treatment, but the medication may be causing permanent infertility. As the story hurtles forward, we’re introduced to an all-woman cast of characters, each with their own secrets--and some whose identities just might be one and the same.
My taste in thrillers usually trends toward medical and science subgenres, but Ryan’s strong, decisive voice and familiarity with my own Boston hooked me from the beginning. I enjoyed each new twist as we moved from Ellie and Nora (a cunning pharmaceutical rep) to the ruthless and privileged women on the arms of Pharminex’s men. Every piece of this seemingly chaotic puzzle clicked into place, including a few I hadn’t predicted. Ryan did a wonderful job weaving a tale of the lengths women will go to secure their futures--or avenge them--in a world run by masculine power and wealth. Through the characters’ heartaches and regrets, we learn that the only thing money can’t buy is a miracle.
The Line Between by Tosca Lee is a meticulously crafted and incredibly timely science thriller. It follows the journey of Wynter Roth, a young woman raised in an apocalyptic extremist Christian cult. Upon her expulsion from the New Earth community and compound, she must navigate the overwhelming world of the modern United States. As the days wear on, however, North America is gripped with a strange illness that presents as rapid, early-onset dementia. To Wynter, the epidemic and increasing natural disasters look eerily similar to the events New Earth’s prophet foretold as signs of the impending Doomsday--a Doomsday from which she no longer has salvation.
Lee handles this terrifying story with deadly accuracy, from the creeping dread that sets in with the first scene’s thawing permafrost to Wynter’s heart-pounding flight as the country crumbles around her. My background is in biology and pre-med and I was impressed with the scientific plausibility that many science thrillers lack. Having survived a pandemic and family succumbing to the same illness that inspired Lee’s fictional disease, I can say her worldbuilding in The Line Between is nothing short of prophetic. Both the overarching plot of the epidemic and Wynter’s own tale were gripping from the very first line.
The Oppenheimer Alternative by Hugo and Nebula winner, Robert J. Sawyer, is a science fiction take on classic wry political thrillers. Like its titular character, Alternative is melancholy and driven in turns. It follows the historic scientific events of what we know as the Manhatten Project, but like World War II, they serve as a backdrop for exploring Oppie’s faceted and often discontent character. The modern reader in me would have loved to see more of the minds and lives left in Oppenheimer’s wake--Kitty and most notably Jean. I was struck by the care Sawyer took to be as accurate as possible, without relinquishing any of the moments’ excitement. The transition from the historic events to his speculation on alternative history was seamless.
Sawyer’s prose dissects each new character with an honest curiosity devoid, for the most part, of judgment. His exploration of both these personalities and the events they influenced--or in the case of the latter, speculative half of the book, could have precipitated--was almost tender. Sawyer’s dedication to accuracy and craft make The Oppenheimer Alternative a wonderful book, not only for fans of classic speculative fiction, but also any historic fiction reader.
Thoroughly recommended, 4 out of 5 stars! Read now!
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