Ben Stone is a scientific genius.His determination is driven by a genetic disease that tears through his family and which snatched his father away years before.He will forsake anything to find the cure and save his own son from the same fate.Then that day arrives and NEMREC, a serum that can restructure and recode DNA is conceived.He feels that it might be the best day of his life, and that he has found the cure that will save his son from an unimaginable future.But when he returns to the laboratory to continue his work, he discovers that everything has disappeared, nothing left but an empty office with no trace of NEMREC. His dreams for the future are shattered.He assumes that it must have been stolen, but begins to worry when he can’t reach his wife or use his identity card.It seems that things couldn’t get any worse for Ben Stone, until he tries to leave the laboratory and only narrowly avoids being shot.He manages to escape, but finds himself as the central axis of an unthinkable conspiracy, one which hides dark and ugly secrets.He has to find a way to survive and save his family, but how is he supposed to do so when he is already dead?
Excerpt – part of chapter one
Sixteen eyes gazed back at him, twelve of them through heavy rimmed glasses. They stood there silently waiting for him to speak whilst clutching their plastic cups, shuffling first left, then right. Graham was still holding his pipette, his fingers poised and willing, trained for nothing but repetition and tedium. Even in a moment of glory Ben could see that he was desperate to get back to his workspace. Alan was pulling up a stool, rubbing the base of his back like a woman in the third trimester of pregnancy who had reached her daily limit. Ami stood behind them, her open lipped smile full of reassurance, and she was staring at Ben as if they were the only people in the room. Right now he was the centre of the world. He was the centre of Ami’s world. It felt good to have her approval.
Phil finished pouring the cheap champagne into his own crumpled cup before tipping the remainder of the bottle, which seemed to constitute little more than froth, into Ben’s. He stood nonchalantly at Ben’s side ready for the celebratory cheer, the empty bottle swinging low. As he nodded to Ben to speak, a quick come on, we’re waiting, a bizarre image of Phil crept into Ben’s mind. He visualised a young Cambridge University student with smooth wrinkleless eyes, but behind the same thick rimmed lenses that he wore today. The imagined face was youthful, yet was still topped with a balding scalp, only partially covered by the long hairs that had been left to grow from just above his left ear. So ingrained was the image of the aged Phil, it was impossible to conceive a true and faithful representation of the young genius that he must surely have once been. It was like he had always been old.
“Well, it has been a long four years,” Ben began, pausing for breath after almost every word. It was hard to concentrate over the distracting sound of his wine as it fizzed about in his cup, and the whirring of the air conditioning rattling along above him. His eyes were tired and gritty from the dry atmosphere. It was seven thirty at night and he had been here for over twelve hours already today. He had known by late morning that today would be the day. When the first results came back, he knew it had worked. As he gazed out from behind his own glasses to see them all waiting for him to say something momentous, all he really wanted to do was knock back his bitter and overly carbonated fizz and get out to the bar with Mark.
The truth was that he didn’t know what to say to them. He felt an uncontrollable need to find something meaningful and poignant to say; to mark the life changing occasion with something that would never be forgotten. He had to find something inspiring. Something that would cause each of the scientists before him to regale their families with the story, who would in turn tell the tale to their friends, before soon enough the story would travel with the same inertia as a meteor through space. He felt the weight of all great men before him who had stood on the same precipice of achievement, isolated in the solitary moment before the world learns what has been accomplished. All that kept coming to his mind were the fuzzy static heavy words of Neil Armstrong as they were beamed back from the moon all those years ago. People still spoke about that moment, even kids like Ben who were born years after the event. It was impossible to forget the significance of that first footstep. There was no person in the world that would forget that name, that moment, or those words. His success today may not have the same intergalactic stretch from one celestial body to the next, and would perhaps be more quietly celebrated, but he felt the same sense of weightlessness. This moment was the joy. This moment was his, just before the curtains are drawn to reveal the expectant audience. Stood there in his lab coat and shoe covers in front of a sea of tired faces, he felt as overwhelmed and excited, he imagined, as the first man to step foot on the moon.
“We have done it together. This is our success, and it will change the world. Raise your glasses.” Ben held up his plastic cup, and a series of hands rose up before him, including Graham who had finally relinquished his pipette to the bench.
“Here’s to us. And here is to NEMREC. We did it.” They all nodded their heads, their plastic cups in the air in muted celebration before knocking the liquid back. He saw a couple of smiles, and several of them patted their nearest colleague on the shoulder, in a display of professional appreciation and admiration. If he could have done so without automatically assuming an air of inflated self importance, he would have patted each of them on the back himself, and thanked them for their individual efforts. Instead he settled on a submissive handshake with each, as the formal line of scientists disintegrated into a casual crowd. He wanted to emphasise the joint effort today. He knew in the whirlwind of media attention and fervent celebration that would surely ensue in the days to come that it would not be his team appearing on the television. Nor would it be them who would be whisked away, by business class no doubt, to the next conference for genetic research that he was certain he had read was going to be a six day stint in Dubai. It would be Ben Stone. Revolutionary Scientist. The one that cured genetic disease. He rolled his self-awarded title around in his head enjoying the way it sounded and getting drunk not on the alcoholic drink, but the dizzy heights of accomplishment. It sounded good. Seeing that during his momentary lapse into daydream the rest of the team were either finishing up at their work benches or had already discarded their lab coats and were back in their own clothes, he took a step towards his own office.
“Don’t forget, drinks at Simpson’s tonight,” he called, as he saw a couple of them nod in enthusiasm. Ami nodded too. “Eight thirty, I’ll be there.” He turned and opened the door to his office, and sat down into the green leather chair. It was always darker in here, although in theory there were the same number of lights as the main laboratory. He knew because he had counted them last winter when one day he could barely see to read at his own desk, and he had indeed established that based on an equivalent floor space in the main laboratory, there were four recessed lights, just as there were above his desk. The trouble in here was that there were so many papers and so many books that the light literally got sucked into the heaving mass of a lifetime of research. Every surface had been utilised to hold some item of importance, including the uncomfortable looking couch that had on occasion formed an impromptu bed when he realised that the time to catch the last train home had passed him by. It lined the only wall that wasn’t covered by a bookcase that stretched all the way up to the ceiling. He had read every page of every book in here. He had spent the majority of his life either huddled over a test tube, or with his head buried in a book. He established his life’s path from the very first day that he learned of his family’s unfortunate trait. It was the day that his mother had sat him down when he was fourteen and explained the basis for his father’s mood swings and how they would likely get worse, until one day when they might not be able to recognise the man they knew anymore. Until then, Ben had been happy to play the role of a teenager. He offered up no complaint when passing his time casually with his friends, racing his BMX around the park across the purpose built ramps to perfect his bunny hop bar spin trick. But the day that she sat him down to talk, that changed everything.
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The synopsis accurately describes the action, and I loved the concept right from the very beginning… which was slow. So slow, in fact, that it took me days on end to pass the first 20% of the book. But then, so do some of Ruth Rendell’s books, and I still loved her. I persevered, mostly because I loved the concept. This had to get better! And it did.
Michelle Muckley did not disappoint. By 25% of the way through, the main character discovers he’s being targeted by an assassin. Imagine that! By 50%, my initial 4 star rating jumped to 5 stars, and then it fixed there for the duration. I absolutely loved the plot, the twists and turns, Ben’s gormlessness and Hannah’s determination. I even loved her father, who only featured for a couple of pages.
The author is a skilled storyteller and she has the knack of making the characters realistic. I loved them (or loved to hate them), though I would have expected Mike’s motives to be better veiled in mystery. As it was, the story allowed the reader to know more than the main character and, more than once, I found myself muttering ‘No, Ben, don’t do that!’. It worked for me. I was completely invested, and no way could I bring myself to put the book down from about 65% onwards.
A very enjoyable book, right on the point where three genres meet – mystery, action and thriller – I would wholeheartedly recommend it. I would happily gift it to some of my friends. Five shiny stars for Identity X.
I was born in the town of Warwic in 1981. It is a small historical town in the heart of England, and I was the fifth child born into a family of boys. I developed a huge interest in the written world from a young age, and with more than a little help from Roald Dahl found quite the taste for anything gross and gory. Home now is Limassol, a city on the southern Mediterranean shores of Cyprus. Winters are spent in the mountains, summers are spent at the beach, and pretty much all hours between are sat at a computer where I am writing the next novel, or reading somebody else’s.