A group of fugitives has escaped from a top secret New York State military facility. Possessed of superhuman strength and speed and with hair-trigger tempers, the escapees have spread out across the USA, each targeting an apparently random and innocent individual for death. Both the Department of Defence and the CIA are keen to see the escapees stopped. So, who do they pick to sort out the mess?
Well, a one-armed man of course.
Jim Chapel lost his arm in Afghanistan where he was a special forces officer. Now tied to a desk job but in possession of a state of the art electronic prosthesis, he is tasked with stopping the escapees and preventing the murders. Up against the clock, Chapel begins his cross-country mission aided only by a reclusive computer whiz, known only as Angel, and a beautiful vetinarian whom he rescues from one of the fugitives.
Of course, what with this being a thriller and all that, things aren’t as they first appear and Chapel begins to uncover an extraordinary conspiracy in which no one can be trusted and which reaches to the highest levels.
Chimera, David Wellington’s first foray into thriller territory (he is the author of the Monster Island horror/sci-fi trilogy), contains elements of techno-thriller, political thriller and conspiracy thriller. In summary, if you like a lot of action in your thrillers, you’ll probably enjoy it. There’s plenty of pace, the violence is suitably graphic without being excessive and it’s liberally salted with cliffhangers and plot twists. It’s a good, honest action thriller that does exactly what it says on the tin. So, if this is your kind of thing, then you can hand over your hard-earned readies with confidence – there is a faint whiff of the formulaic but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing if the plot and action are interesting enough.
The central plot device (which, although heavily hinted at in the title, I will refrain from revealing) is slightly sci-fi but not so much as to stretch credibility and, if true, would be truly horrifying, which all adds to the plot tension. Wellington has also created a nicely bizarre and creepy minor villain for Chapel to deal with, on top of the surface plot and the slowly revealed conspiracy.
Wellington says in an afterword to the book that he wrote Chimera in part to highlight the sacrifices American troops have made in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wonder whether this laudable thought might have affected some of the characterisation as several of the leading characters, including Chapel himself, seem a little too much like tropes of thriller heroes and not quite human or fallible enough. Whilst I wanted him to succeed in his mission, I can’t say I was particularly bothered about Chapel as an individual.
If I were being pernickety, I’d also say that the underlying reason for the conspiracy doesn’t really withstand too much thought – there are some fairly obvious internal contradictions between the problem that the conspiracy is supposed to address and the attempted solution.
Fortunately, Chimera is pacy enough and sufficiently gripping to overcome any weaknesses – subtitled “A Jim Chapel Mission” in a clear hint of more to come, I am sure that Wellington is going to win many more fans. It probably won’t convert non-thriller lovers but it’s a sure-fire winner for fans of the genre.
I’d like to thank William Morrow, the HarperCollins imprint responsible for publishing Chimera, for kindly sending me a review copy, for which I am very grateful.