Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: The Egyptian by Layton Green

The Egyptian 
Written by Layton Green

Published: 2011

Synopsis: An investigative reporter tracking rogue biomedical companies is terrified by the appearance of a mummified man outside her Manhattan apartment. A Bulgarian scientist who dabbles in the occult makes a startling discovery in his underground laboratory.These seemingly separate events collide when Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, private investigators of cults, are hired by the CEO of an Egyptian biomedical firm to locate stolen research integral to the company’s new life extension product. However, after witnessing the slaughter of a team of scientists by the remnants of a dangerous cult thought long abandoned, Grey and Viktor turn from pursuers to pursued.From the gleaming corridors of visionary laboratories to the cobblestone alleys of Eastern Europe to a lost oasis in the Sahara, Grey and Viktor must sift through science and myth to uncover the truth behind the Egyptian and his sinister biotech – before that truth kills them.

What do you get when you blend complex biomedical science, ancient Egypt, mercenaries, world travel and cult investigators? A cracking action/adventure/mystery by Layton Green, that's what! The Egyptian is a well-paced and highly captivating tale that incorporates all these delicious elements in the most perfect of measurements.

The second (yet stand-alone) book in the Dominic Grey series follows the ex-diplomatic security agent turned cult investigator (under the mysterious and alluring Prof Victor Radek) as a simple job to recover stolen goods for an Egyptian biomedical company grows more complex and life-threatening. The synopsis up above really gives you all you need to know going into this book, so I'm going to refrain from adding anything more because I'd hate to take anything away from the story when you guys read this one.

What I really loved about this book was the combination of science and ancient Egyptian lore within the action/thriller landscape. The Egyptian element, though a primary component of the book, never feels overdrawn or exaggerated, and is only there because of its relevance to the story. Unlike books by Dan Brown and co, I didn't feel like the history was forced down my throat, or any really broad leaps were made with it. While it may or may not be historically accurate (it's been awhile since year 11 ancient history) I never doubted the validity of it, or its inclusion in the story. In order to balance this mythos and keep it from becoming a fantasy tale, Layton Green incorporates a scientific angle which is relevant to today's society and where science is invariably headed. While obviously dealing with complex issues, the science never had me faltering. Because Grey isn't a scientist himself, any high-concept scientific statement would invariably  be broken down for Grey the layman, and by extension, myself. While there were concepts and terms that definitely did go over my head, even with the translation, I have to paraphrase a quote from the book and say, while I didn't always understand it, I "sure as hell could grasp the import" (page 101).

Successful though this balancing act was, to me the real success of the book was the characters. Typically the reason I don't run to buy this type of book is because the characters are paper-thin. They're often overly good, or bad to the bone, and any attempt to add a back-story or emotional past is clumsy and poorly achieved. This certainly isn't the case in this book. Though there is a fairly large cast in this book, the real driving force is Dominic Grey. He's the antithesis of the typical action-y hero, he's thin and slight, quiet and facing multiple internal troubles. He's skilled in martial arts and favours his hands over guns. But perhaps most important, is his respect for the law and law enforcement and that he truly seems to care about keeping everyone alive. He doesn't go crazy shooting bad guys down a busy street because A. he knows that he'll likely injure or kill innocent bystanders and B. He knows that he has no legal right to do so, and those actions will result in his arrest. This is far more realistic, and a correction of one of my pet-hates in books. It may be fiction, but there are limits people!

Joining him in the cast is his mentor and boss, Victor, Al-Miri, the CEO of the Egyptian biomedical company with a mysterious gold medallion around his neck, Nomti, Al-Miri's hunch-back security guard who is bat-shit crazy and absolutely terrifying, Jax, the playboy mercenary, Stephen, the head scientist at the biotech company believed to have stolen the product, and Veronica, an investigative journalist for the UN who is too big a sticky-beak for her own good. Though I may have made the characters seem a little one-trick with their brief introductions, they all have their own complexities and insecurities and add their own unique layer to the story. Like in real life, they all have a reason behind their actions, misguided though they sometimes may be. It makes for a collection of struggles, heartbreaks, unlikely partnerships and, of course, betrayals. Even the smallest characters are fleshed out and almost walk off the page, you may not like them, but you believe them.

Speaking of dislike, the only thing is this book that I didn't like was Veronica. I can't really blame Layton Green for this, because I think he made her wonderfully complicated and her internal struggle against western beauty/age ideals made for an interesting side-story. However, I am yet to find a single female character in this style of book that I've liked. I feel so anti-feminist saying this, but they just seem to stumble through the story, whether they're a love interest, an expert, or a victim. Veronica's self-confidence, constant obsession with how she can fix Grey's appearance and persistence of the story for her own personal reasons really grated my nerves, but I think she's meant to be one of those characters you love to hate. She's clearly flawed and vulnerable in her own way, and I have to credit Layton Green for not simply making her a barbie bombshell who puts everyone in danger time and time again.

Overall, I found this book a real winner. It was engaging, well-paced and wonderfully complex. If you enjoy any of the elements I've discussed in the review, myth, cults, science, adventure and complex characters then I think you will devour this book quickly, and with relish. I think I'll end this review with a quote that sums up the motivation of most, if not all, the characters. "We want relevance, love. Nothing more, nothing less. To be noticed. Not by anyone else, no, that’s a byproduct. We want to be able to notice ourselves” (Jax page 144).


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