Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette


From the author of The Deus Machine and The Third Pandemic comes a fast-paced thriller about the power of harnessing life itself—and the deadly secrets it conceals. Portland, Oregon, was once a beacon of promise and prosperity. Now it’s the epicenter of a world gone wrong, its streets overrun by victims and hustlers, drifters and gangsters. Lowly contract cop Lane Anslow struggles to keep afloat—and to watch out for his brilliant but bipolar brother, Johnny, a medical researcher. Lane soon discovers that Johnny is part of an experiment veiled in extraordinary secrecy. But he has no idea who’s behind it, how astronomical the stakes are, or how many lives might be destroyed to make it a reality.

Now Johnny’s gone missing. To find him, Lane follows a twisting trail into a billionaire’s hilltop urban fortress, a politician’s inner circle, a prison set in an aircraft graveyard, and a highly guarded community where people appear to be half their biological age. Hunted by dueling enemies, Lane meets a beautiful and enigmatic woman at the center of a vast web of political and criminal intrigue. And behind it all is a sinister, desperate race to claim the biggest scientific prize of all: eternal life.



Wow! What a book.

"The Forever Man" starts with a nearly-as-old-as-Moses man digging in a graveyard after dark, while his 'security' and staff stand guard (far enough away that they do not see exactly what he is doing.)  Though it nearly kills him, he unearths a tiny mummified body and twists one of the forearms off.  Ugh.  He then arranges with his second-in-command to have the rest of the security team take a (permanent) vacation.  Nice guy, huh?

At least I don't think the author has done this purely for shock value.  The old man, Zed, is about 120 years old, and for most of his life, has considered himself 'above' everyone else.  Society's rules do not apply to him.  Granted, his earlier home life was not all beer and skittles.  But during the San Francisco earthquake, he turns in his 'partner' and manages to walk off with a bag of expensive jewelry.

In the ensuing years, the gap between the haves and have-nots has gotten even larger, although everyone is playing a numbers game.  The well-to-do live in high-security gated communities and talk about themselves (and each other) as a 35-60, or a 42-70 (etc.);  the first number is the age they appear, while the second number is their actual physical age.  People in the lower economic strata consider themselves lucky if they have any kind of job and a roof over their heads; most don't.  In their areas of town, a crime lord called "The Bird" only allows his coins to be used.  Since most people get paid on debit cards, Bird acts as a bank and changes their plastic for the coin of his realm ... skimming a hefty 50% 'service fee'.

Against this nightmarish backdrop, we have Lane and Johnny, two brothers.  Lane is a nearing-50ish contract cop - a 'temp' if you will.  All the danger, none of the benefits.  Johnny, two years younger, is intellectually brilliant ... and subject to the wild emotional swings of a person with bipolar disorder.  He has been working on genetic manipulation that will allow cells of the aged (and wealthy) to effectively reset themselves, thus providing the patient near-eternal life.

Remember Zed from the cemetery?  He's the bank ... and ruthless enough to send Johnny and the other two geneticists to their deaths in a plane crash.  Except Johnny has a flash of brilliance and jumps off the plane before it starts to taxi to the runway.  Then he disappears for his own good.  He leaves the airport pronto, steals a copy of the technology from "Mount Tabor", and attempts to contact his brother, narrowly missing one of several hit squads attempting to seal his deal.

It constantly amazes and disgusts me the lengths to which people will go to ensure they at least maintain the status quo, or, preferably, consolidate more of societal power and wealth in their hands, while denying the same to everyone else.  And in the end, they will never be able to keep it.  It's part economics and part physics:  the more you try to hold onto, the harder it gets.

And most of the characters are betraying each other right and left.  Even if they have made deals.  Even if they have shaken each others' hands.  But then, they're not exactly ladies and gentlemen.  Lane and Johnny are true to each other, even though they spend very little of the book 'together'.  Likewise, Lane and Rachel do a good job at having each others' backs through some pretty thrilling and frightening circumstances.  You even find some *ahem* residents of the aircraft boneyard prison who have more integrity than most of the glitterati on the outside.

Most of what I read are cozy mysteries.  You know, nothing terribly disturbing reiterated on page after page.  Cute animals are the norm and maybe a romance or two thrown in for good measure.  "The Forever Man" is a much darker kind of a book - but it's a thriller as opposed to a horror novel.  I found the introduction (in the graveyard) difficult to stomach.  Thank goodness, that part was relatively short, and Ouellette's skill as a writer takes over and has the readers alternately cheering when Lane escapes one of the various traps set for him and getting riled up at the depths to which some denizens of 'humanity' have sunk.

Bottom line?  I recommend "The Forever Man", especially if you want to get riled up in service of a 'cause'.  I will keep my eyes out for Ouellette's other books too.



Pierre Ouellette entered the creative realm at age thirteen as a lead guitarist for numerous bands in the Pacific Northwest, including Paul Revere and the Raiders, and later played with such jazz luminaries as saxophonist Jim Pepper and bassist David Friesen. He has had two novels published in seven languages and both optioned for film. He has also authored two biotech thrillers published in paperback under the name Pierre Davis, and directed and produced The Losers Club, a documentary about struggling musicians. Ouellette lives in Portland, Oregon, where he now devotes himself exclusively to writing fiction and playing jazz guitar now and then in a little bar just down the street.


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(Disclosure:  I received access to an e-copy of The Forever Man from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours and NetGalley, in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

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