Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thumbs Up For "The London Project"

The novel I have to review for you today is fascinating, a bit creepy, and eerily all too real in it's futuristic endeavors.  Mark Maxwell's "The London Project" takes the not-too-distant future possibilities and transports us there in the here and now.  Cars today have the ability to warn you of an impending fender bender.  A robot arm can respond to nerve/brain impulses from a human.  Tech experts say in the next thirty years the possibility of transferring human consciousness into the digital universe is a definite reality. 

But what if we took these seemingly sci-fi elements just a teensy bit further? We'd have "The London Project" - join me in exploring tomorrow, today.

Book Blurb:
Portal has transformed the lives of London's residents. The tech giant's centralised network is ubiquitous, its free services utilised by Londoners for everything from communications to entertainment, transport to health care. As a consequence Portal harvests the minutiae of its users' daily lives. 

On the eve of the network’s expansion throughout the UK, Detective Sergeant Louisa Bennett investigates the death of a young girl. Her body covered in lacerations, the victim’s autopsy reveals an unidentifiable cellular structure permeating her brain. The case is further complicated when no trace of the girl can be found on Portal. It’s as if she simply doesn’t exist. 

There’s something about the young victim that draws Louisa in and holds her tight. An innocence surrounds the girl, even in death. But with the autopsy recording an open verdict, Louisa fears it won’t be long before the case is shunted from her homicide unit. 

Following an attack on Portal’s network, private data is leaked on all its users. In the ensuing chaos, three high-ranking members of a criminal syndicate are assassinated. It becomes clear to Louisa that the perpetrators have used Portal’s systems to coordinate the killings. When she uncovers a connection between her case and the Portal breach, Louisa becomes a target herself. 

To save her own life Louisa must uncover the truth behind the girl’s death—a truth that leads her deep into the heart of The London Project.

My Review:
I'll say from the get-go - I really, really liked "The London Project", and I'm no technology expert (as regular readers well know).  Mark Maxwell has created a very realistic sci-fi world that is still grounded in elements of the reality we live in at present.  

Today people are connected every moment of every day through their smart phones, smart TV's, etc., etc., etc.  Facebook, Twitter, texting - you name it - wherever you go there's a profile and that's how you connect with friends and loved ones.  In the novel, this is all done through devices called 'terminals'.  Cash rarely changes hands in today's society.  From debit cards, to online banking and bank transfers through your phone, we're living in a virtually cashless realm already.  In the novel, all you have to do is click a button on your terminal and funds are immediately transferred from your bank account to the merchant.  Don't have time to run to the grocery store?  No problem - your terminal automatically orders and has groceries delivered when you need them based upon what you've purchased in the past and what you've utilized from your fridge and pantry for the week (hello - hear of the drone program Amazon has been implementing?).  Schools don't have physical textbooks (ever hear of ebooks and etextbooks) and all schoolwork is completed and handed in through your terminal.  And your terminal knows you - the biometric imprint will shut the terminal down if someone other than the owner picks it up.

Unless the unhackable becomes hackable.  

Louisa Bennett is a Detective Sergeant with the equivalent of the London police department (or MET, as it is known in the novel).  During a routine stakeout, the team loses the culprit they've been watching when his facial recognition profile falls off of London's digital grid.  That's impossible.  Sense strips blanket most of the metropolitan area and should track him with a 99% accuracy rate.  The only way they could've lost him is if he was using a forged profile, a highly illegal and expensive alternative for a lowly street urchin.  On a hunch, Louisa decides to turn off her terminal and instead utilize her God-given sight to locate their target.  Almost immediately she spies the man she's after and the hunt is back on.

But her boss doesn't want to hear about the possibility of a forged profile.  That will complicate his sorry existence and ruin his case closure rate.  Louisa is firm on what she saw and refuses to adjust her report.

Mere hours later, her life is further complicated by the dead body of a runaway reported nearly two years before.  The girl isn't even on the grid.  Her body is riddled with lacerations that appear to be some method of torture - and she has a bloodied hole near the base of her skull as if an animal took a bite out of her neck.  The puzzle pieces of the case are missing or scattered.  But somehow her two recent cases have a connection.

And Louisa needs to put the pieces together before her teenaged daughter becomes the next victim.

Like I said, this was a great thriller with very realistic sci-fi elements.  I was a teensy bit lost in the beginning as I tried to picture what all the techie stuff was about.  But very quickly that became a side issue as the action ramped up and never let go.  Mark Maxwell did a good job of building in the description of the futuristic elements within the storyline as it progressed instead of falling into the realm of info-dumping and description overload.  At times there actually was quite a lot of description but again, it never felt like overload because of the manner in which it was woven into the elements of action as they were happening.  Great use of showing instead of telling.

The characters were well-rounded, with plausible back-stories and problems within their everyday lives just like your average Joe - in this case Jane.  They had challenges, disappointments, and solid motivations for why they made the choices they did, at least for the main characters within the novel.  Louisa was a strong, nearing middle-aged woman with two kids attempting to juggle her life, stretch a paycheck, and deal with an ex-husband and his perky new wife.  She used her wits and yet questioned herself like most women do at times.  She took a lickin' and kept on tickin' when things got interesting on the job.  When a man expressed his interest, Louisa wasn't sure what to do about it or if she even had the time or energy to do something about it.  I could really relate to her on so many levels.

So maybe I did figure out where it was all heading, but I enjoyed the moments of questions, the heart-pumping action, and the creepy almost deja vu moments along the journey, feeling all the while that this could really be happening.  The visuals within the story were stunning (but I'd never wear a dress to work again if I had to ride a virtually invisible elevator).

The only issue I found with "The London Project" was the need for a bit more editing.  There were multiple times where it was 'he' instead of 'she' or vice versa.  When Louisa was talking to her ex-husband, John, a dialogue tag had the name of a different character who was not present in the scene.  There were also quite a few missing words or duplicate words the farther into the story I read.  Even so, the plot and pace kept me engaged to where these were mere nuisances.

A caution - there's not a ton of rough language in the novel, but there are a few brief uses of the f-word.  A couple of times it didn't feel right for the character or scene and seemed a tad gratuitous, while other times it worked (as in that great 80's movie Die Hard).  If a bit of rough language is something you can get past, then you'll thoroughly enjoy Mark Maxwell's novel.

Also we here in the U.S. have different vernacular and spelling for some words than across the pond (and quotations used are the singular ' instead of the double ") and is just something you'll need to accept if you should choose to purchase and read "The London Project" - and I recommend you do if you like a good thriller.  

This one gets thumbs up and four stars.

Purchase at Amazon or Amazon UK

Author Bio:
Mark was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in Dublin. He worked as a software developer for over 10 years. The London Project is his first novel.  Visit his website at

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