The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine #BookReview

Dr Jaqueline Silver blows things up to keep people safe. 

Working on avalanche control in Slovenia, she stumbles across a delivery problem with a consignment of explosives. After raising a complaint with the supplier, Zagrovyl, a multinational chemical company and her ex-employer, her evidence disappears. She is warned, threatened, accused of professional incompetence and suspended. Taking her complaint to Zagrovyl head office, she narrowly escapes death only to be framed for murder. Escaping from police custody, she sets out to find the key to the mystery. 

From the snowy slopes of Slovenia, to the wreckage of Chernobyl, Jaq attempts to expose the trade in deadly chemical weapons, while fighting for her life.

Title: The Chemical Detective | Author: Fiona Erskine | Publisher: Point Blank | Pages: 432 | ISBN: 9781786074928 | Publication date: 4th April 2019 | Source: ARC .mobi from NetGalley

I really wanted to like ‘The Chemical Detective’, but I really, really didn’t. It has a fun compromise and an engaging and refreshingly different heroine, but the prose completely failed to grab my attention.  

Let’s start with the good stuff. It begins strongly, with protagonist Jaq suspecting something is fishy with a delivery at her work. Jaq works as a scientist at a company that monitors and tries to improve the quality of the snow at a ski resort. She has the makings of a great heroine, intelligent, passionate and determined. She also takes time out from her investigating to have lots of sex with a younger man. The fact that she is an older woman was refreshing, especially in a book with a straight up thriller plot, but it wasn’t enough to save the book for me. 

I was gripped by the first few chapters, but as the plot developed I found myself less and less engaged by it. Part of the problem is that while Jaq is interesting, there are also loads of chapters dedicated to Frank Good, the ruthless CEO of a mysterious chemical company that is wrapped up in the shady goings on. Frank is a far less interesting to read than Jaq, and I found all the detail on corporate life in his chapters really dull. At 432 pages the book isn’t exactly short, and I can’t help feeling that a shorter edit that focussed much more on Jaq would have been more fun to read. 

To be fair, things do pick up later on, with a fairly gripping section set in the ruins of Chernobyl, but by then I’d pretty much lost interest. On paper, an international investigation into chemical weapons sounds like a topical and promising plot. In reality I’m afraid I found it implausible and not at all gripping.  

I think there’s a really good book in here somewhere, and I’ll be interested to see what author Fiona Erskine writes next. Unfortunately, ‘The Chemical Detective’ is too long, too slow and too bogged down in unnecessary detail to really thrill. 


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