three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Paul McEuen
user_rating: 
0

missing imageIn his debut novel, Cornell physics professor and nanotech expert Paul McEuen crafts a techno-thriller worthy of Michael Crichton.

The Story: As a young man in the Royal Navy, Liam Connor learned a terrible secret from a Japanese kamikaze soldier in the days after World War II. More than 60 years later, Connor, a venerable professor emeritus on the cutting edge of nanotechnology at Cornell, is tortured and killed for the information. Following a trail of clues left before Connor's death, the professor's granddaughter Maggie and his protégé, Jake Sterling, must outwit a Chinese assassin bent on revenge to keep the world safe from Uzumaki--"Spiral"--a deadly biological weapon.
The Dial Press. 320pages. $25. ISBN: 9780385342117.

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"McEuen ... does a fine job of braiding science, story and suspense to create an engaging and fast-paced novel. ... There are times when this intelligent thriller is a bit too intelligent, particularly for readers lacking scientific acuity, whose eyes might glaze over passages dense with nanotechnology, fungal theory and DNA sequencing." Miles Corwin

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"McEuen has a tough time suppressing his teacherly instincts, occasionally weighing down his otherwise well-constructed debut novel, Spiral--about a (surprise!) Cornell professor trying to contain a deadly strain of fungus weaponized by the Japanese during WWII--with extended lessons in nanotechnology and saprobiology. ... As it progresses, the story starts to grow on you, not unlike the fungus." Paul Staskiewicz

Fantasy Book Critic 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The prose is very smooth for a debut author as the reader is exposed to some new concepts and intriguing historical detail. ... A good debut by professor Paul McEuen who showcases some deft writing skills along with a cool plot to give us a smooth techno-thriller for jaded fans of this sub-genre." Mihir Wanchoo

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Mr. McEuen, a first-time novelist, makes the early part of Spiral a galloping read. ... But endings are problematic for books with doomsday scenarios." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Despite its formulaic setups and predictable resolutions, the techno-thriller has become increasingly popular, in part, for the insight it provides into otherwise impenetrable science. In his debut, Paul McEuen writes what he knows, and the result--a bit heavy-handed at times on the technical side of things--is a primer on nanotech, the science of fungus, and some very interesting (and arcane) history. Big ideas and quirky bad guys (or girls) are the order of the day, and McEuen stakes his claim alongside Michael Crichton, Jack DuBrul, and James Rollins as a fresh new voice in a burgeoning genre.