A clever debut novel in which an engineer inadvertently helps his best friend solve an intricate FBI case.
Gardner’s thriller centers on two childhood buddies: computer engineer Barry Thomas and FBI Agent Val Scoffer. Barry just started a new job in Cleveland, where he makes fast friends at work and at his apartment complex. But, through no fault of his own, Barry just as quickly makes an enemy. A woman has been leaving increasingly angry notes to someone named Jimmy on Barry’s door. He tracks her down and tells her he doesn’t know any Jimmy. So she begins stalking him instead, both in person and on social media. In addition, he begins getting progressively sicker, and he’s afraid the woman, who works at a pharmaceutical company, has poisoned him. He becomes paranoid of everyone around him: “The police were allowing the person who had done this poisoning to slip through their fingers. The icing on the cake was his concerned neighbors turning up, obviously to assuage any suspicion and try to minimize their own involvement.” Val, based in Kansas City, is having his own problems. There is a rat within his department, and a racketeering case falls into chaos when all the electronic evidence disappears. In addition, one confidential informant is killed and another, named Jimmy, vanishes. Val suspects that a suddenly flush colleague is the rat, but he doesn’t have a plan to trap her until Barry tells him of his woes. Gardner, who spent decades in IT, uses his background to create a believable crime scenario, but he doesn’t overwhelm the reader with technical details. Gardner’s narrative is crisply paced, alternating between Barry and Val, with few quiet scenes. His conversational writing style makes for a quick, breezy read. Sympathetic characters in Barry and Val, an arrogant but realistic villain, and a large supporting cast add to the fun. It almost seems like he’s planning a series featuring all these characters, which would be welcome. He’s done some admirable groundwork in this first volume.
An intriguing debut thriller from a burgeoning talent to watch.