Seasoned mystery writer McMahon (Dead Silver, 2008, etc.) steps into a new genre with his first thriller.
Tom Crandall, the scion of a wealthy Los Angeles family, takes a job teaching psychology at a community college. Tom also keeps an eye on his family’s vast business and real-estate holdings, but much of his time goes into preventing his fractious family from throttling one another. It’s his relationship with ne’er-do-well brother Nick that gets him and the rest of the Crandalls into hot water. Nick, a drug-addled 30-something surfer and competitive swimmer who has never made a go of anything but bad relationships, kicks off Tom’s nightmare by calling his brother in the wee hours of the morning and drawing the unsuspecting Tom out to the site of the Crandall family’s Malibu beach home, where Nick totters madly on a cliff before plunging over. After rescuing Nick from the chilly waters, Tom discovers that the incident is connected to recent activity involving his other brother, Paul, who oversees the Crandalls’ business empire. Paul has become entangled with both an extramarital affair and a shadowy company that makes motion pictures. That company has rented the family lodge for use in an upcoming movie. Tom soon suspects there is more to the film company, the production and Paul’s involvement than meets the eye. In the meantime, Tom meets a beautiful actress and discovers a sinister conspiracy involving nano-particles. He digs deeper into the situation only to find his entire belief system challenged, both by betrayals from the ones he loves and from the strange group of people who have entered his life. The writing is first-rate; McMahon can sling words with the best of them. But the weaving of science fiction into the story line is unsatisfying and the characters shallow. While the concept is certainly plausible, the plot is underdeveloped and spare, and the book falls short of being either convincing or compelling.
The plot reads as if dashed off to meet a deadline, but the book is somewhat redeemed by decent writing.