KIRKUS Review Theory

A secret agent investigates a conspiracy theorist in this debut horror-tinged thriller.

Theory is a man: Elysium Theory, celebrated conspiracy theorist, television host, and functional alcoholic. The man with the unlikely name is mourning the loss of the love of his life, and his grief is manifesting itself in destructive ways—such as tricking his fans into leaping off a building so he can see how they fall through space. Theory’s production manager, Simeon White, is trying to keep his boss happy and out of prison, mostly in hopes that he will inherit Theory’s media empire when the host inevitably exits the stage. But the deaths have not escaped notice. Selena Black is a member of the Black Syndicate, a secret government-backed intelligence operation of nearly unlimited power. The Blacks raid Theory’s offices, capture Simeon, and blackmail him into turning against his boss. But Theory isn’t Selena’s only problem: Something has been murdering Black agents and leaving only their epidermal tissue behind. Whatever is sucking people out of their skins, the archives prove that it first struck 100 years earlier. The cases turn out to have more to do with each other than it immediately appears. Even stranger, it seems that Selena looks identical to the mysterious woman whom Theory is pining for. Carlos’ urgent prose teases out the tensions in every scene: “Selena depressed the button to the eleventh floor. She started to get a bit nervous; something was off. Maybe it was her own behavior. This was just uncharacteristic of her and went against every Black Syndicate protocol. Selena was operating without a safety net.” The novel offers some fun twists and turns. But it suffers from a cast of characters who will fail to stir much emotion in readers. None are sympathetic, and some—including Theory—are quite abominable. The author sets him up to be something between Alex Jones and Julian Assange, but he lacks such specificity. Even more problematically, everyone speaks and thinks in action-movie clichés, as in this passage focusing on Selena: “There was one problem: she hadn’t planned on falling in love. It wasn’t part of the mission parameters.” The result is pure pulp.

A spy tale that delivers several surprises but fails to capitalize on an intriguing premise.

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