In this debut thriller, recent hires at a chemical company learn there may be a coverup regarding a new product’s nasty side effects.
Alex Gregory’s doctorate in statistics and minor in chemistry earn him his first “ ‘real’ job” at Sterling Chemicals, overseeing pesticide field testing and data analysis. Small-town Alex has barely settled into his New York City high-rise office when he gets a strange call from Cindy, the widow of Dr. Peter Hudson, whose fatal heart attack vacated the position Alex now holds. Cindy, trying to reach HR, inadvertently dials Peter’s number and reaches Alex, a complete stranger with whom she’d like to talk about her deceased husband. At a coffee shop, she claims Peter was too close to something at Sterling, and his death was actually murder. The new administrative assistant (and Alex’s potential romantic interest), Leslie Sherwood, hears of another former employee’s unusual exit—Dawn Manning simply stopped showing up at work. Meanwhile, Alex and Leslie are unnerved by a blue-shirted man who they’re fairly certain is following them. All of this likely stems from a pesticide in development, with a high kill rate for bugs but whose potential lethalness for humans Sterling may have intentionally buried. The tale’s measured pace deftly establishes characters (Alex and Leslie bond during the company’s dreary orientation) and plot (employees suspiciously avoid any discussion about Peter). Frazee’s details are sometimes excessive, like specifics on how to run an espresso machine. But the introduction of a slowly approaching menace is effective, namely the recurring man in the discernible blue shirt, who’s innocuous at first but decidedly more frightening once Sterling workers link him to probable murder. The mystery, too, is both alluring and appropriate in its white-collar relevance: a document inexplicably missing from a file signifies something sinister, while another one hidden in Alex’s office is pure intrigue. The ending, though a bit rushed, is realistic and left predominantly open.
Solid characters steer a tantalizing mystery that’s unhurried but more than worth its while.