May 16, 2021

Book Review


Christian Cantrell

reviewed by Lou Jacobs


Anyone with ingenuity can kill almost anyone else in dozens of different ways with either an immediately available implement, such as a pencil, heavy object or even a coffee cup—or with a myriad of actual weapons, such as knives, guns, poisons. Or even a push or trip, all before your brain can register the threat.

Scorpion is an immersive near-future thriller involving the CIA’s attempt to apprehend a serial killer who has slaughtered nineteen victims across the globe, without apparent motive or linkage in the victims.

He has dispatched them all in various methods with extreme ingenuity and cunning, and occasionally with a simple shove off a roof or a throat slit with reckless abandon. He continues to methodically kill in unique ways across the globe.

Cantrell weaves a masterful narrative, while intersecting three main characters: CIA analyst, Quinn Mitchell; physicist extraordinaire, Henrietta Yi; and the international serial killer, known as the Elite Assassin (eventually revealed as the Iranian born, Ranver). As their life experiences unfold, along with their resultant motivations, they intersect and collide with explosive revelations.

Quinn Mitchell is a much heralded senior data analyst, just completing a stint on the Nuclear Terrorism Nonproliferation Task Force. Which was initiated as a response to the heinous nuclear attack on Seoul, Korea six years previous. The goal being the safety and security of the United States and its allies. Inexplicably she is assigned the task of going from her comfortable cubicle out into the field to chase and investigate the Elite Assassin by using her analytical prowess. Unfortunately she brings with her extensive emotional baggage. After her four-year-old daughter, Molly drowned in a neighbor’s pool her life unravelled. Neither her husband or herself could stop blaming themselves and eventually each other leading to the dissolution of the marriage. With almost reckless abandon, she poured over extensive data using the CIA’S Structured Interactive Query Interface, hoping for a lead. Although there was no obvious correlation or pattern between the victims, the killer left on all, a four-digit number, carved, branded or indelibly imprinted somewhere on all the bodies. Her investigation takes her to Sohar, Oman, where she quickly realizes how much she is over her head. Somewhere there has to be a motive. She is nudged into reality, that she has to “follow the money” if she hopes to catch the assassin before his next kill.

Henrietta Yi is a rather diminutive five-foot-tall Korean, who on first sight appears to be a K-pop fangirl. however she possesses two PhDs in physics. in both quantum and particle, and yet has a Pokémon fetish. Both of her parents perished in the nuclear attack on Seoul. Which might explain why a brilliant and promising young physicist would forgo the fortune from the private sector to devote her life to the “mission” of the CIA. Her work at the Large Hadron Collider (actually the largest machine in the world and highest-energy particle collider in existence) has borne fruit. Using AI, she trained neural networks to identify anomalous data. Amongst the plethora of data, an encrypted message was encountered …. deemed the Epoch Index it was claimed to be a packet of information from the future. Reportedly the source of an ongoing top-secret project. The significance and intent of the Epoch Index is instrumental in the motivation of our protagonists.

And, lastly there is Ranver, the Elite Assassin: physically a tall, slender specimen with a swarthy complexion and a distinct and fitting mustache, and black eyes which can portray both congeniality and malice simultaneously. Born in Iran, and initially raised as a Hindu, but now espouses no organized religion. His early years were forged by the Military Intelligence of Iran, against his father’s wishes. He now travels the globe in luxury, from jets to luxurious penthouse hotels, provided with personal concierge service everywhere. His agenda remains clouded in mystery, but his lethality is known by all international police organizations. His weaponry remains sophisticated and high tech, procured by clandestine methods.

Cantrell expertly weaves a complex narrative in which our three protagonists unexpectedly intersect and collide with multiple reveals utilizing carefully crafted prose and layered multi-dimensional characterization, escalating slowly in suspense and tension, and culminating in an explosive and satisfying denouement. Cantrell incorporates science and possible cutting-edge technology to keep the reader fully engaged in his cinematic narrative. Multiple themes are explored, not only murder, but the painful and ever-present grief from the loss of your child, as well as love and friendship. Also considered is the possibility of disinformation campaigns. With the ability of manufacturing whatever reality that those in power find convenient, and thus eradicating the truth. But, more importantly, never lose sight of the importance of those you love and hold in friendship.

Overall, Scorpion is a riveting techno thriller utilizing near future technology resulting in a compelling page turner. A follow up novel featuring our three protagonists would be a welcome addition to the oeuvre of Christian Cantrell.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.

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