Threshold, Ben Mezrich

Warner, 1996, 336 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-60521-2

A smart, competent hero. A beautiful heroine apt to be the target of bad guys. A mad scientist. A plan to radically change humanity. Explosions, guns, shadowy government projects and enough technical jargon to confuse the heck out of anyone not remotely familiar with the subject.

And the question was: What are ingredients to a good techno-thriller?

Threshold has all the required qualities of a good techno-thriller. The surprise is that it comes from a new author rather than one of the established masters of the genre.

Jeremy Ross is headed for a solid medical career when, suddenly, a ghost from his past appears and asks for help: Robin Kelly, an ex-girlfriend. Her father, the secretary of defense, (never mind this unlikely coincidence…) died a few weeks back and she doesn’t think it was an accident. So it’s up to Ross’s skills at medical hacking to uncover the truth. But when bullets start flying, he’s quick to realize that he’s in something far deadlier than a simple autopsy analysis…

A better-than-average thriller ensues, with car chases, creepy world domination plans, serviceable characters and stupid mistakes by the bad guys. The prose is as exciting as it should be, if not entirely clear at a few critical junctions. Threshold makes perfect summer reading.

Which is not to say that the novel is flawless: Serious suspension of disbelief is necessary at a few place (60 billion$?). The villains’ actions aren’t always logical (why two set of pursuers in the car chase?). A few characters aren’t kept on stage long enough (Christina Guarrez). The remarkably young age of many characters -while plausible- is sure to annoy a few. A final objection is that the villain’s plan is so… compelling, that the elitist reader will eventually root for its success. (The ultimate resolution also appears a bit tidy.)

As a first novel, Threshold is quite impressive. Mezrich has the potential for being a serious competitor for Crichton, Cook or Clancy: He’s got it as far as pacing, intelligence or characterization goes. This reviewer will anxiously await Ben Mezrich’s next novel.

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