Simon & Schuster, 2010; 470 pages
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2010
**Note: This review refers to an uncorrected proof of the novel.**
Description from the publisher:
Recently released from prison, David Marion didn't expect to find a hitman at his door. Warned that a powerful secret organization is after him, David goes underground and off the radar - waiting for the perfect moment to wreak revenge.
Physicist Helen Freyl has just accepted a job offer from a giant pharmaceutical company who are close to finding a cure for radiation poisoning. But when the mysteriously sudden death of a colleague is followed by another, Helen begins to doubt her employers' motives and realizes that her own life is in danger, too.
There's a lot to like in Venom, Joan Brady's new novel, a follow-up to her bestselling Bleedout. The suspense-filled thriller is well-written, fast-paced, and deliciously convoluted. It tells a complicated tale of industrial espionage and international skullduggery. And along the way, we're introduced to some memorable characters, and even get a bit of romance thrown in. Something for everyone.
The story revolves around Helen Freyl, twenty-nine years old, a physics genius, with "fine bones" and "porcelain skin," and a fortune inherited from her father. Already you hate her, right? But Helen is troubled, too: "people kept dying around her." Both her parents and the man she loved have died violently. So when Univers Chemical and Analytical Industries (UCAI) offers her a fellowship with the Follaton Medical Foundation in London, she jumps at the chance to spend a year in England, helping them with their public relations problems. The Foundation's work is concerned with victims of the Chernobyl disaster, and they need someone to help them explain their scientific research to the public and the press. And Helen seems perfect for the job.
David Marion is also young and attractive, but has lived a very different life from Helen's. Recently released from prison, he was a neglected and abused child who grew up with none of Helen's advantages. But in prison he made connections with some powerful people (one of whom was Helen's father) who took up his case and won his pardon. Now, however, someone on the outside is trying to get him killed, and he's gone underground to try to find out who and why.
I won't say much more about the plot, since I don't want to give anything away. But bee venom and the search for a cure for radiation poisoning feature prominently. People get killed along the way, and the surprises keep coming right up to the end.
I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would at the outset, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a real page-turner. I did have a few problems with it - length being one of them: Even though it's a complicated story, I think it's just slightly longer than it really needs to be. Then, too, there aren't many really likable characters in the book; and the two major characters, David and Helen, are the least attractive of them all. And Brady's attempt at American southern or midwestern dialect is unfortunate to say the least. She has Lillian, the Freyl's housekeeper, spouting "if'n" and "gots to" so often, it was like stumbling into an old Hattie McDaniel epic - and this from a character who runs a large household and handles computers and email with aplomb.
Also, some of the plot elements were a little hard to accept, even for the thriller genre which always calls for a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The romance between Helen and David is a stretch - reminiscent of those 1930s screwball comedy films with the runaway heiress falling for the ditch-digger (no offense to any ditch-diggers out there). Not an impossible development, but certainly not something you'd expect to happen. And the episode with David jumping out of his tent in the middle of the night and using his Swiss Army knife to attack a wandering moose - well, let's just say it took a heck of a lot of suspension of disbelief to keep reading after that!
Read Chapter One of Venom.
I'd like to thank Simon & Schuster UK for providing me with the ARC of this novel. I'm also indebted to Book Chick City, host of the Suspense-Thriller Challenge, for letting me know the ARC was available. All the opinions expressed in the above review are my own; no payment, aside from the ARC itself, was received.