Author Holt’s (Substrate, 2016, etc.) innovative thriller drives home the fact that technology isn’t always our friend.
This is Holt’s second novel featuring Lincoln “Mac” MacMahan, a professor and veteran suffering from PTSD. In Oblique (2016), Mac and his students uncovered a government plot to influence the upcoming presidential election (where do authors get such outlandish ideas?). This time around, Mac; his wife, Mindy; and his students discover a foreign scheme to replace the newly elected Margie Perserve, the first female U.S. president, who seeks to unify the country after her divisive predecessor’s nefarious plan failed. But the autocratic, lascivious ruler of an Asian country has Perserve kidnapped, replacing her with an undetectable solid hologram that enables him to direct American policy. As Holt explains in his preface, these are “Hologram forms with self-sustaining space occupancy, light energy, behavior, touch, and mass. A human facsimile, a replica out of thin air, vectored by the nation’s artificial intelligence (AI) backend.” The president’s husband, Roy, a former solider like Mac, notices changes in his wife’s behavior. Around that same time, Mac and Mindy discover inexplicable shifts in the president’s policies. They bring in computer whiz Justin, one of Mac’s students, who uses a filter and finds something suspicious in recent images of Perserve. It’s a race to uncover the imposter and free the president from her overseas captors. Holt’s novel is a satisfying blend of sci-fi, suspense, and romance. He paces his narrative well. The reader is shuttled from Asia to Washington, D.C., to New York as the tension builds. Holt, who comes from a technological background, makes the holographic process believable, no small feat. The novel, however, assumes a tiresomely earnest tone. The leader and his minions are evil, while all the Americans are morally correct. This is especially evident when it comes to the two couples, Mac and Mindy and Margie and Roy: “I do know that what kept me going through all my recovery were dreams of you and your embrace. Imagining that you loved me,” Mindy says. Still, action wins the day here and largely distracts from the flaws.
A tech-driven thriller; entertaining despite the inflated prose.