The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine

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The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: James Donald
Reviewed by James Donald
Summary: An excellent first novel that is packed with intelligent writing, clever twists and turns and a stunning selection of locales worthy of a Bond epic.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: March 2019
Publisher: Point Blank
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1786074928

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Dr Jaq Silver is a brilliant scientist with a healthy social life who loves her work and life. Whilst she is haunted by her past she won't let it define her. When she becomes entangled in a mystery, a mystery that could tie to some of the most horrific weapons on Earth, she doesn't hesitate and jumps straight in. We follow Jaq as she travels the world digging deeper and deeper into a rabbit-hole of intrigue and betrayal, never compromising and always seeking the truth. From the ski slopes of Eastern Europe, to the sunny climes of Portugal and even making a visit to that most glamourous of locations… rainy Teeside… this is a true thriller.

The review cover of this book is bold and in your face. It's the yellow of an older chemical warning triangle and loudly declares WARNING – THE CHEMICAL DETECTIVE EXPLODING ON TO THE CRIME SCENE and the back cover tantalisingly invites us in with MEET DR JAQ SILVER. SHE BLOWS THINGS UP TO KEEP PEOPLE SAFE. And, in essence, this is where the half a star was lost. Not the cover or even the words (both of which can change dramatically from when I see a book till when it is published) but the promise. Erskine's own blog decries the lack of a female MacGuyver or Bond and it is by that comparison that this falls short. As an origin story for a new character it is brilliant. As a standalone adventure, it needs a little more punch, more action.

Dr Jaq Silver is an amazing character and one that the author clearly cares about. Here we have an older woman with absolutely no shame; and why should she? There are moments within this novel that will make you scream at authority. Old-fashioned values and judgements that you will hope have been left long behind us but that the author obviously has faced in one way or another and wants us to know about. Jaq will do her job, go clubbing, pull a man 20 years her junior, sleep with him and then move on. Jaq will drink, keep fit, and try to have it all. Jaq will do all this whilst being a step-grandmother and until a character calls her out on it you are just thinking you go, girl. After it is called out you want to punch the misogynist in the face and go out drinking with Jaq.

I honestly thought that this was a slightly rough draft (not badly, the penultimate draft that just had a couple of tiny things to iron out) from a hugely experienced writer rather than a debut novel. Its flaws are tiny, as I say above I simply want more of the same. There are opportunities for MacGuyver escapes earlier on in the book, or more Bond-like action sequences without it becoming hackneyed or by the numbers. Also as a geek I'd love to have more science being used. As we get further in it is pure gold. There are a couple of scenes near the end that are incredibly cinematic. Dr Jaq's escape from the heart of darkness comes a little earlier than a traditional finale but it is excellent (and the actual finale is pure Bond).

Erskine masterfully keeps the plot tense from the outset. Every pause leads to a new twist and every twist leads to another problem for Dr Jaq. In the writers' room for Deep Space Nine they had a phrase they kept going back to that would ensure a good episode, make O'Brian suffer (in the Marvel Bullpen they had a similar one that basically meant that if Peter Parker was having a good time it would only ever be fleeting) and Erskine fully understands the power of this. Every time Dr Jaq gets a glimmer of happiness it is crushed. We feel for her, we root for her and we want her to be happy.

This is a great book and one that should get optioned for a major movie before too long. Get in on the ground floor for this wonderful new character.

Further reading – for an action adventure with a strong female protagonist this would pair up well with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland (translator).

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Buy The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine at


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