Bad Chemistry
Gary Krist
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Buy *Bad Chemistry* online Bad Chemistry

Gary Krist
Random House
351 pages
January 1998
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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: greed.

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.

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