A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

This recommendation comes from Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, and was originally posted on his blog.

TheAscendentSince offering to write the first post for Petrona Rememberedon on a book I have read in the past year that I would have recommended to Maxine I have been thinking about the 50 some books I have read since the middle of 2013. What might Maxine have liked?

My favourite book over that time would be Gail Bowen’s mystery, The Gifted, which is the 14th book in the Joanne Kilbourn series but it is not the book I have chosen to recommend.

The book I have selected is The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. My review of the book is being re-posted as part of this recommendation.

I was primarily led me recommend the book because of its skilful description of nations using technology to attack other nations. Not a bullet is fired or a bomb dropped but devastating attacks are launched between the China and United States. I remember and was impressed with Maxine’s knowledge of the internet and the technical aspects of blogging. Her obituary from Nature noted that she was a “researcher in the biophysics of muscle contraction” before joining Nature. I think she would have appreciated the information technology nuances of The Ascendant more than I understood them and she might very well have had a trenchant comment for my review.

On cyber attacks The Ascendant is very much current. Today’s New York Times has an article on Chinese hackers attacking American government agencies and how the U.S. government has penetrated Chinese companies.

I expect the hero’s talent in seeing patterns would further have appealed to Maxine’s scientific mind.

I also looked at the “About” section of Petrona Remembered and noted that Maxine “…..particularly enjoyed those novels which explore a social issue, political idea or troubling aspect of the human condition”.

The Ascendant is a thriller more than a mystery it delves into an important social and political issue in China – a fictional grass roots movement challenging the Communist Party because of the Party’s corrupt and arbitrary actions in furtherance of economic development. I think Maxine would have been intrigued by the all powerful Party being confronted.

As well Maxine always loved a good story and The Ascendant has a plot to capture the reader.


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.