In this debut paranormal-infused thriller, competing intelligence agencies use metaphysical technology while facing off in a realm beyond the corporeal world.
Professor Robert Shilling was 9 when his parents died in a car wreck. Believing there’s a chance he can still communicate with them, he places FieldREGs (random-event generators) around his New Jersey childhood home. Rob seems to have unknowingly piqued the interest of the NSA’s Gen. Donald Flint, who’s determined to get his hands on the professor’s files. He sends rookie agent Amanda Denoyer, Rob’s new postdoc at Duke University, to find the files. What exactly Flint wants isn’t immediately clear, but it’s related to his project, Celestial Destiny. He’s furthermore impatiently awaiting completion of the enigmatic imaging cube from postdoc Vadim Gostkov. The Russian’s heading the NSA-sponsored research group at MIT professor Dirk Jenner’s Institute for Transformative Research in Metamaterials—metamaterials that “exhibit properties not found in nature.” Meanwhile, John Pierce, who works at the research institute, has an appointment with psychologist Dr. Helene Bertrand for the hallucinations he’s been experiencing. Helene’s psychiatrist colleague Paul Greer, however, has seen patients (John’s co-workers) with identical hallucinatory symptoms, leading him to speculate they’re all seeing physical manifestations (ghosts, perhaps?). When someone winds up in a coma after an unexplained heart attack, it doesn’t prevent the person’s abduction. But these apparent kidnappers, traversing a plane not of the known world, haven’t seized the physical body; they’ve taken the soul. The resultant rescue operation precipitates a battle in a strange, unfamiliar realm.
Engelmayr’s book is an impressive fusion of paranormal novel and techno-thriller. Amanda, for one, in her first NSA mission, has a run-in with a Russian agent, while an intelligence agency is intent on destroying Celestial Destiny. These take place within a story brimming with metaphysical terminology, like the silver cords linking people outside their bodies to their physical selves. Characters often speak in hypotheticals, as they’re discussing concepts that are abstract, primarily unknown, or written off as pseudoscience. Fortunately, the crisp dialogue takes an intelligent, scientific approach. Flint, for example, proffers: “It’s a classic chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon. Do crustal magnetic anomalies associated with iron ore alter our biological circuitry, making us think we’re seeing ghosts? Or do ghosts tend to congregate around iron deposits?” Similarly, Engelmayr simplifies the plot by separating science and religion; Paul stresses proving “not the afterlife” but “an afterlife,” while Jenner differentiates the out-of-body soul from the biblical soul. The 2012-set story is augmented with the incorporation of real-life events, from impending Hurricane Sandy to people’s fears that the world will end before the year’s over. There are effective reveals, such as what the imaging cube does, and a final act, on the other plane, in which some of the threats aren’t exactly human. But while characters’ back stories are generally solid, a few are lacking. Helene, in particular, was traumatized by a 1980s horror film; for readers who haven’t seen it, vague details like “scary storm clouds” won’t register.
Surreal notions and landscape, grounded by the chic gadgets and intrigue of an espionage tale.