In Iyer’s debut thriller, a young Chicago caterer finds herself in a race to unlock a mysterious code that will reveal the secrets of her deceased father’s life’s work.
This complicated adventure tale begins in 1935 at an archaeological dig in India’s Indus Valley, and it moves through modern-day England, Pakistan, and Germany as its characters go on a madcap search for clues. At the Indus dig, Maxine Rosen’s grandfather, Samuel, discovered an ancient stash of small disks made of some sort of nutritional supplement. Local legend said that they could bestow either long life or unsavory death, depending upon who swallowed them. To study them further, Samuel brought the disks back with him to German, where he was head chemist at Berliner Pharmaceuticals. Years later, his research was taken up by his son, Hiram, in Chicago; he died in 1995, an apparent suicide. Now, in 2000, there are powerful people who want the disks and findings destroyed, and they’re targeting the few remaining people who know about the Rosens’ work. When Lars Lindstrom, Samuel’s old lab assistant, shows up at Maxine’s door and asks for her help in deciphering Hiram’s code, she feels compelled to complete what her father and grandfather began. Iyer maintains the narrative tension throughout; each discovery leads to another riddle and adds to a growing cast of threatening bad guys, including former Nazis. She’s rather good at subtly dropping clues that many readers will likely overlook—just as the inexperienced heroine does. The author provides romantic relief in the form of Dr. Julian McIntosh, an archaeology professor at the University of Chicago who agrees to help Maxine in her quest, but unfortunately, he’s thinly drawn. In fact, except for Maxine, the novel pays scant attention to character development, concentrating instead on the main storyline. Interestingly, Iyer is at her best in lengthy passages that detail the disks’ components: complex, ancient spores comprised of retroviruses that somehow lower one’s metabolism. This intriguing biochemical aside offers implications that ultimately validate this thriller.
An often imaginative novel with a well-concealed surprise ending.