3 out of 4 stars
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As is often said, the truth is stranger than fiction. If I didn’t know this was based on factual events, I would have thought it was too far-fetched to be a fiction novel. The book is categorized in the thriller/crime genre, but fits more the contemporary fiction genre as there isn't much of suspense here. The Vanishing Chemist by Peter Alpert follows a chemist's trials and mishaps as he pursues his pipe dreams. The story is told from the first point of view of the chemist's attorney, Mark Conover, and it is based on factual events.
The cons get craftier and the stakes rise ever higher in the breezy (and maddening) story of the chemist Madison Bellamy (aka Maddy). Maddy is always looking for ways to make a quick buck, but his plans often go south in a hurry. His misadventures, and his sheer disregard for the law, often land him in more trouble than he anticipated. It is up to his attorney to keep him out of the clutches of the law, not an easy task let me tell you.
When Mark first took Maddy on as a client he never realized what was in store for him. Maddy first contacted Mark for legal advice about water pollution allegations, and other requests soon followed by. Trouble seems to follow Maddy around, and he often finds himself in hot water due to his unscrupulous practices. In fact he is mudding the waters in more ways than one. Mark has to keep Maddy from "falling over the proverbial cliff", a task that would affect his personal and professional lives. Bellamy’s escapades will take them both halfway around the globe into a glamorous world awash with shady business and dark corners.
The novel is a many-ingredient concoction of intrigue, romance, travel, clandestine meetings, and more besides. This is the author's second book. It is a very short read, consisting of 25 chapters and a total of 138 pages, and it is very informative in nature. Lots of information about high finance and courtroom proceedings is relayed, which I found interesting. The story illuminates both characters throughout their dealing. I struggled to feel sympathy for Maddy, who is a very unpredictable character, although I certainly felt a tremendous amount of sympathy for his lawyer. I liked Mark and his adventurous spirit, and respected his sense of honour. I also liked that Mark stood up for Maddy throughout all his trials and felt duty-bound to him. The players aren’t just names but full-fledged characters, with their thoughts and dialog recreated convincingly. In fact the relatability and character descriptions are one of the strong points in the book.
This is one of those books that start off slow and just gets better and better. I enjoyed the story, but there were a few stumbles along the way. It starts slow, but then picks up stream as the story unfold. There’s a certain amount of repetition regarding the allegations against Maddy. The novel has a fluid and concise, if dry, writing. The meaning of the title becomes chillingly clear as the story unfolds. Each chapter is aptly named, but the name of the last chapter "the final solution" left a bad aftertaste due to its negative associations. The story lacks the tension you would expect in a thriller, but it was interesting ride all the same.
Aside from these issues, I did enjoy the story. It's an engaging story overall, so I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. The author has seamlessly woven themes of fallible human nature, duty, and standing up for your beliefs in a single narrative. The story also explores the pitfalls that result from unbridled greed and misdemeanors. If you are interested in behind the scenes courts proceedings and high-finance deals, this book certainly fits the bill.
The Vanishing Chemist
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