About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Ascendant by Drew Chapman

24. – 771.) The   Ascendant by Drew Chapman – I was swept into The Ascendant. It has been quite awhile since I was reading in bed and suddenly realized it was 2:00 in the morning of a work day and I still wanted to keep reading. I was reminded of how I was caught by the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I had to know what was going to happen next in the story.

I rarely repeat blurbs but the words of Marysue Rucci, Vice-President and Editor-in-Chief of Simon and Schuster resonated with me:

     I love this book and tore through it     in two sittings.
Chapman has created a striking contemporary hero in Garrett Reilly. The former California surfer has become a bond analyst on Wall Street for a medium size firm. The job barely holds his interest. Most days he smokes some marijuana to gain the “fuzzy, contented peace” he needs to let him deal with the constant agitation of trading in bonds.
He has two special gifts. He has a photographic memory for numbers and a talent for detecting patterns:
     Just the barest hint of a pattern – in numbers, colors,
     sounds, smells - would start a tingling feeling at the base of his
     spine, the faintest electric shock that was somewhere between
     pleasure and alarm. As the pattern, whatever it happened to be,
     became clearer to him, the tingling dissipated, melding quickly
     into hard fact ....... It didn't matter if there was purpose or intent
     behind the patterns; Garrett simply saw them, felt them,
     everywhere, and the recorded them in his brain. Just like that.
     Every minute of every hour of every day.
On a rare sober day he senses an unusual pattern in the market for American Treasury bonds. Because he can remember the identifying numbers on Treasury bonds issued years ago Reilly, by looking closely at the Treasury bond market around the world notes that someone is selling the bonds purchased at a single auction of the bonds twelve years ago. What excitement can there be in the sale of bonds? Their sale becomes breathtaking when the total sold is $200,000,000,000.00.
Reilly advises his boss, Avery Bernstein, that China is attacking the U.S. through the sale of the bonds. Confirming other evidence is the timing of the sales. They took place in a repeating loop 4 and 14 minutes apart through the day. In Chinese culture 4 means death and 14 means accident. They are “the two most unlucky numbers in China”.
When Bernstein passes the information on to the Treasury Department the information is intercepted and assessed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
As the American government recognizes Reilly’s remarkable talent to see patterns in the chaos of modern society’s ceaseless flow of information they seek to recruit him to determine the patterns in Chinese actions.

The diplomatic corps has already noted a change. Chapman's narrative ability is demonstrated by the following summary of diplomacy:

     Diplomacy with the Chinese was, to U.S. Ambassador Robert  
     Smith Townsend's mind, ceremonial theater. A carefully
     choreographed dramatic set piece, with a first act, an interlude, a
     second act, the occasional reversal or surprised, the 
     reintroduction of an early plot point, a denouement, and then a
     neatly wrapped-up resolution. Each actor knew his or her role,
     what was expected, and how the drama would turn out.

     But not this time.
Reilly is a master of modern information technology. At the same time he is abrasive and self-absorbed and amoral. He is volatile. Simmering with anger he flares into violence. He is a team of one. No one could be more ill-suited to work in the military.

It is no surprise he is resistant to joining the DIA. Beyond his innate distaste for working in a group, having his older brother killed in action while a soldier has left him bitter towards the American military.

At the same time  Reilly is so brilliant at patterns that the DIA continues his recruitment.

The American military realizes that soldiers are inevitably unready for the next war because they have studied and are influenced by the last war. Reilly is free from the mould of conventional military training.
Within China Hu Mei, a young peasant woman, is leading a growing movement against the regime which has no hesitation in trampling the working people in pursuit of economic development. Can she be having an effect upon the Party leadership?
Reilly and readers of the book are suddenly caught up in a conflict between China and the U.S. that is being waged by technology rather than soldiers.
A video game has become real life. Attacks, without using a bullet, bomb or rocket, are being launched through computers.
Chapman has imagined a new form of conflict for the 21st Century that entranced me.

Reilly's cleverness is amazing. While a genius, his behaviour is often boorish and immature. I was reminded of Lisbeth Salander - another brilliant, emotionally damaged, amoral character with immense computer skills. What a pairing Salander and Reilly would have made!

It is not a book you want to pause and reflect upon while reading for you are bound to question the reality of the plot. Just settle in for the ride and prepare to be astonished adopting  the words of the New York Times on Maisie Dobbs, the first in the series by Jacqueline Winspear. Not many books justify the use of the word thriller. The Ascendant is a genuine thriller.



  1. Bill - Reilly sounds like a really interesting character, both innovative and solidly-developed. And the idea of bonds sales patterns being an important clue - that's innovative too. I was wondering about the credibility of everything, but as you say, there are some books that you just want to 'dive into' without worrying too much. A good thriller is like that and this sounds like a good thriller.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Reilly is a character a reader will remember. The plot is not incredible. You can simply enjoy the cleverness and creativity.

  2. Bill, thanks for a very engaging review. A likely US-China war via the technology-driven financial markets is a reasonable premise for a thriller. As a mild reference point, in the past the two countries have been at loggerheads over volatility of the Chinese Yuan. The espionage angle makes this novel more interesting, I think.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the kind words. While the first attack is on financial markets the tech war is far more complex than just financially. As resident of a nation which has had its own confrontations with China I can see the book being real life relevant to you.

  3. That sounds very intriguing, I like the idea of the man with the skill for patterns.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I wish I could see patterns.