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Book review: The Chemist

The author of the 'Twilight' series' new character is somewhat like a Lisbeth Salander armed with lethal chemical concoctions

The Chemist: By Stephenie Meyer, Sphere (Little, Brown), 518 pages, Rs650.
The Chemist: By Stephenie Meyer, Sphere (Little, Brown), 518 pages, Rs650.

Stephenie Meyer’s first book after her record-breaking Twilight series—The Host, also made into a movie—was not greeted with much enthusiasm. She must be credited, then, for not giving in to the temptation of returning to her best-selling sparkly vampire universe. Her new book, The Chemist, is markedly different—it is peopled with flesh-and-blood humans, albeit ones with capabilities that can boggle the ordinary reader’s mind.

Our protagonist, whom we will call Alex (she has multiple names, but this is what sticks), is a professional torturer who was honed and employed by an American state agency so secretive in nature that it is referred to as just “the department". When her employers decide that she knows too much for their peace of mind, they try to kill her. Alex has been on the run since then, fobbing off at least three assassination attempts, her weapons being paranoia and the lethal chemical concoctions she whips up; she is somewhat like a Lisbeth Salander with chemicals. She also has the potential to turn herself into a walking weapon—deadly jewellery, a belt that hides poison-bearing syringes, the works. None of these are spoilers—we know this much by the second chapter. So what’s the rest of the book about?

Author Stephenie Meyer. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

The “department" now wants Alex back, to deal with a top-secret case that has the potential to put millions of American lives in danger. Can she trust them? Or is this another ploy to draw her in? What seems like a question with a simple “yes" or “no" answer gets complicated as more characters enter the scene.

The first hundred or so pages are slow going. When we first meet Alex (then known as Chris), she is in a library looking for survival hacks from books. Apart from books and her brilliant mind, Alex also picks up skills from YouTube videos. In the beginning at least, it seems Meyer has turned to the same source. She wears her research heavily, explaining to the reader in excruciating detail the traps Alex sets for her would-be assailants. This is not helped by an editor who has not taken a red pen to correct Meyer’s tendency to use five words where two will suffice.

But once you get past the wordiness, the plot begins to pick up. Meyer seems to gain confidence in her writing and carries along the implausible story, enlivened by surprising flashes of humour. The remaining 400-odd pages (this is a hefty book) move swiftly, reading almost like a movie script. In fact, this book, with its moral dilemmas and weighty questions encased within a premise that promises some beautiful faces and loud explosions, may be on its way to hitting a screen near you sooner rather than later.

Meyer dedicates this book to, among others, Jason Bourne. Her plucky, poison-wielding heroine may take a little time to grow on you, but ultimately does her inspiration proud.

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