With two short-story collections under his belt, one the winner of
the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, Gary Krist makes a good showing
with Bad Chemistry, his first work of full-length fiction.
Random House put together an aggressive marketing campaign for this
relative unknown, and as a mainstream thriller Bad Chemistry
pushes the buttons it was intended to push.
Kate Theodorus-Baker is an ex-cop turned social worker from a Chicago
family filled with cops. Married now to a well-to-do ex-hippie and living
in a D.C. suburb, Kate finds fulfillment in social work with young
delinquents. Her family has little respect for her husband, her career
and her new lifestyle, but Kate is determined to rise above their opinions.
During a birthday party for her husband Joel's aging dog, another dog
is set afire in her backyard, apparently a mean-hearted prank. But when
Joel goes missing after a disagreement with his business partner, followed
by a bizarre break-in to her home, Kate must fall back on her old skills
and instincts from her cop days. Joel has always had a penchant for
chemical sensory enhancements, herbal and artificial, although he's told
Kate that it's only smart drugs now, nothing illegal. But the local
police cursorily investigating Joel's disappearance discover a serious
cache of assorted illicit narcotics in Kate's home, and Kate herself is
suddenly the focus of investigation. When Joel's import-business partner
turns up dead, the mess Kate is in gets horribly deeper.
Kate finds an unlikely ally in the troubled teen who discovered the
body of a dead biochemist somehow related to Joel's disappearance. The
boy is a budding hacker who develops an instant crush on Kate. Plagued
by guilt for using the boy but with nowhere else to turn, Kate gets him
to look for clues in an encoded e-mail she found before someone erased
Joel's laptop hard drive. Following the leads the virtual world uncovers,
Kate will endanger herself and life of the boy as she unearths the world
of designer drugs and betrayal her husband kept hidden from her. The mystery
will be revealed, and at its heart will lie the basest of human motives:
Bad Chemistry succeeds as a thriller largely on its subject
matter. It provides a neat twist at the end that sets the story just
enough above others of its ilk to ensure Gary Krist a continued contract
with Random. This is a really readable book, though you might find
yourself questioning characters' motivations at times. For a first
novel of its sort: not bad.