Various agencies hunt six scientists who’ve gone into hiding after unearthing an ancient artifact of indeterminate origin in De Servienti’s (Life Turns, 2016, etc.) sci-fi thriller.
Dan Foster and Jodie Stanford, two American physicians in Darfur, Sudan, make a discovery with unforeseen consequences. It’s merely a cylinder, about 5 feet in length, but after Dan, Jodie, and their scientist colleagues run tests on it at a London lab, the group of six suddenly vanishes. This piques the interest of the Vatican’s intelligence service, as well as a few other agencies, including Israel’s Mossad. The latter isn’t exactly sure what the cylinder is, but does know that it’s roughly 250 million years old and made of an unknown material. Mossad enlists an enigmatic freelancer named Shadow to recover the object and assassinate the scientists, who are now considered fugitives. At the same time, Yoshi Araki, a man who hunts down lost or missing items, is hired by wealthy English client Raymond Hooper to locate the cylinder and, simultaneously, Raymond’s Italian girlfriend, Francesca Farini, one of the aforementioned scientists. As Yoshi and Shadow separately make their way to the United States, the fugitives’ assumed destination, the CIA gets wind of what’s happening. Believing that the cylinder is a weapon of mass destruction, the agency authorizes its agents to use lethal force when they find the scientists—if Shadow doesn’t find them first. This novel was originally published in Italian, and Shugaar’s English translation clearly renders De Servienti’s intelligent narrative. The scientific discourse, especially after the cylinder activates itself, is absorbing as well as surprising. Americans are primarily the villains and mostly incompetent, as represented by brash, racist CIA operative Jeff Bradley; they’re also often a step or two behind both Yoshi and Shadow. But although the CIA isn’t much of a menace, the threat of someone killing the scientists is perfectly clear. There are some memorable characters here, particularly Yoshi and his younger biological sister, Midori, who are both highly skilled in martial arts; it turns out that Midori may also be in love with Yoshi, and not like a sibling. There’s a satisfying wrap-up, and although the story barely scratches the artifact’s surface, it will fortunately continue in a proposed series.
Smart sci-fi with a much-desired object that’s far more engaging than the average MacGuffin.