A sci-fi debut about a biotechnologist, a blacksmith, and an odd biological phenomenon’s effect on history.
In 1999, biotechnology engineer John Samuel Weston runs the Haddonfield, New Jersey–based consulting company Haddon Life-Tech with his business partner, Bob Fenwick. One day, he wakes up in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden County, New Jersey, where he was admitted three days ago with an abscessed insect bite on his neck. Dr. Caldwell informs John that when he came in, he was dehydrated, delusional, and insistent that he “go back and save” an unnamed woman. Later, Bob’s wife, Katie, tells John that his partner was committed to the Lakeland psychiatric hospital after becoming obsessed with a secret project in his basement and some sort of “messianic mission.” Bob also suffered a severe insect bite while fishing the nearby Delaware Bay. The bites could be from greenhead flies bred by GenAvance, a company that John and Bob are courting for a biotech design contract. In a parallel plotline, set in 1774 Greenwich, New Jersey, an arsonist has been striking terror into the locals with a string of fires. When tragedy hits blacksmith Thomas Whitman, he joins forces with a Lenni Lenape Native American named Dan Fire Cloud and a slave named Isabel to find help from an unlikely source. In his debut novel, Goldhahn swings for the fences, combining complex historical and scientific themes. A deep reverence for history informs the colonial-era scenes, set on the eve of the American Revolution, which reveal such details as “Coffeehouses were enjoying a surge of popularity...as coffee was fast replacing tea as the politically correct beverage of choice.” Goldhahn also explains scientific terms well, such as an “epigenetic” phenomenon, which he describes as when “something from the environment...triggers the expression of the gene or genes.” Occasionally, narrative padding, in the form of travel details and trivia (such as the explanation of the phrase “Shay pah”), drains the momentum from an otherwise heady mystery. However, the bold ending makes readers’ investment in the characters pay off remarkably.
A layered, challenging fusion of genres.