Book review: ‘The Chemical Cocktail’ by Fiona Erskine
Image credit: Point Blank
The third outing for fictional engineer Jaq Silver is another fast-paced thriller with the magic ingredient of scientific rigour.
It’s been a little over three years since we first met Jaq Silver, the central character in Fiona Erskine’s all-action debut novel ‘The Chemical Detective’. With a typewriter that clacks along at a similar pace to her plotlines, Erskine has delivered the third instalment of her series. And what a difference that short space of time has made. While here at E&T we’ve been devoted Erskine fans since day one, it’s hard to disguise the fact that her novels get better and better every time she goes to press. While we enjoyed book one and were impressed by the second, the third – ‘The Chemical Cocktail’ (Point Blank, £8.99, ISBN 9780861540334) – moves Erskine out of the ‘emerging’ category of thriller writer, beyond the velvet-covered ropes, and into the area reserved for those who have arrived. It won’t be long before we simply call the series ‘the Jaq Silver books’.
As a chemical engineer Erskine likes nothing more than a decent formula, which is precisely what you get with her writing. As with all the best series, there are familiar hallmarks that lock us into the author’s world, served up in equal parts with the freshness and excitement of a new adventure. We can now take it as axiomatic that Silver will use her scientific expertise to do something very important, usually against both the odds and the clock, often in some distant and dodgy, politically unstable and exotic location. And we know that Erskine will strike a blow for women in engineering in a credible and forthright manner. She is also annoyingly clever, not just when it comes to chemistry, but at the point of manufacture of her plotlines, which she does with the mechanical watchmaker’s craft.
With all these elements in place, ‘The Chemical Cocktail’ rattles along from Portugal to Brazil, as Silver sets about solving a family mystery that starts with the death of her mother, a valuable inheritance and the key to a long-hidden family secret. It will come as no surprise to aficionados of the Jaq Silver universe that the plot thickens substantially, mainly due to Erskine’s cast of villains wanting a slice of the action. Travelling halfway across the planet, Silver fetches up in Brazil’s rainforest and goldmines, along the way pitting her wits against distinctly unholy nuns, hired assassins and a ruthless kidnapper.
As the mystery deepens and the threats to her life stack up at every turn, our heroine is forced to deploy her deadliest weapon: her brain. It’s exciting stuff. As Erskine writes towards the end – don’t worry, no plot-spoilers here – “and God help anyone who got in her way.” What sets ‘The Chemical Cocktail’ apart – the magic ingredient if you like – in a world drowning in average thrillers is that Erskine has applied the intellectual and scientific rigour of her writing to a high-speed, gripping and fun story.
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