Thursday, December 6, 2018

Book Review: 'Silent Source' by James Marshall Smith

Georgia author James Marshall Smith comes to his debut novel with a career that assures the reader that the quality of story and the sensitivity of the writing are well prepared. James is a scientist whose range of contributions is from space satellites to molecular biophysics. He was founding chief of the radiation studies branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, where he held a Distinguished Scientist/Consultant appointment. His strengths in his field resulted in his participation as a consultant following the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear crises: he has served as an advisor on nuclear-threat countermeasures for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, the G7 Global Health Security Action Group in Berlin, London and Paris, and for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Though SILENT SOURCE is his debut novel (after polishing his writing skills in writing workshops in LA, NYC, the University of Iowa, and at Oxford) it was one of three international finalists for the 2015 Clive Cussler Grand Master Award!

James’ writing skills are immediately apparent in his opening paragraphs – ‘Like fashion, torture comes in a variety of styles. The paramedic shoved the gurney into the ambulance. Why would anyone, he thought, force Father Michael O’Shannon to trample through a bed of burning coals? And in the name of Jesus? He’d never heard anything like the babbling of the old priest. There were plenty of outlandish stories about the church and Catholics, but he assumed tales from his drinking buddies were all bull****. He tucked the blanket around the priest’s vomit-stained collar. His partner with less than two months on the job collected the BP cuff and IV tube. Father O’Shannon struggled to breathe. He curled his knees into his chest in agony and then muttered as he reached toward his red swollen feet: “They keep shoving me.” The paramedic wiped foam away from the mouth of the priest with a tissue and leaned toward his ashen face. Words trickled from the old man’s lips with his drool. “They hold me back, then push at me again. I . . . I can’t take it anymore.” He uttered each word as if it were his last.’

James has created palpably real characters for this thriller. Everyone in the course of the book is so well identified and defined that they seem familiar to us. Most likely in James’ experience he has encountered such people, but his Forensic Specialist Dr. Damon Keane is so well crafted that we can only hope he will be a recurring character in James’ future novels.

But on to the terrifying story – ‘You know that Atlanta PD has given up on a case when they call in Dr. Damon Keane. The sleuth scientist is quietly famous in forensic circles for unraveling the most daunting technical puzzles, but this case is bewildering. Two people are already dead. The third victim, a priest, is dying by inches in an Atlanta hospital, and the cause is a complete mystery to doctors and police detectives alike. As if matters weren’t strange enough, the dying priest’s rosary beads have suddenly turned the color of blood. Despite that bizarre transformation, Keane knows that he’s not chasing something supernatural. The killer is a man—twisted by anger and a lust for vengeance—but still very much human. As the death toll mounts, the story races to London’s Hyde Park, to the edge of Siberia (home to a thriving black market in nuclear materials), to the backwoods of Georgia. For all of his perception and skill, Keane is always one step behind. Time is running out. The killer is making his final preparations to submerge an entire city in a cloud of death. And Keane has learned that the only way to take down this beast is to outmatch his cunning in a face-to-face showdown.’

Rarely has anyone matched the probing manner of developing a thriller to the degree that James has accomplished. This is a brilliant book, one that clearly belongs on the bestseller list for the year! Grady Harp, October 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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