Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Clem Chambers has an unusual background – as a software developer he recognised the potential market for multiplayer internet games; he branched into investment advice both on paper and virtually (his back cover biography credits his online presence as the CEO of “Europe’s number one stocks and shares website”), and now he has produced his fourth Jim Evans hi-tech thriller.
Jim Evans has Chambers’ skills and then some. Still a young man he has made a fortune through his almost supernatural ability to recognise an investment opportunity, and now in semi-retirement has given himself over to philanthropy. None of his previous three adventures have taught him that these will involve psychopaths, killers, torturers, and general destruction to many of the people about him. Now Evans’ willingness to put up seed-money for a new project introduces him to a Cambridge professor who has an interesting line in social benefits, and something better than an anti-ageing cream: to wit, an anti-death treatment. Or what the professor and his Struldbrug-like rich-backer hopes will give them eternal life – no one has ever lived long enough yet to prove it.
Eternal life is an attractive proposition, and the potion’s temporary youth-restoring properties make it an attractive perk of the job to men such as Renton, the Professor’s assistant. Attractive enough that the hope of another dose is enough to send him cross country chasing young researchers who might have rejected the Professor’s advances and still managed to escape from his secret facilities. Thank goodness that while Jim Evans is battling on the other side of the Atlantic he has his own servant to defend the right at home.
“Renton?” you may have asked, “Where have I heard that name before?” You’ve not, but there was a Renfield, who almost touched eternal life, invented by Bram Stoker, while about the same time I have a feeling that a Scots author was writing about potions changing men in the laboratory.
Eternal life, though, is not enough to trouble Jim Evans on its own, and it would not explain the title. That explanation comes from some of the professor’s other inventions and intentions. In Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, Bond has to fake education (genealogy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for instance, or Japanese poetry in You Only Live Twice) but Evans’ rejection of the prof is given in the form of an economics lecture on food costs and prices to reject the “first horseman” project (yes, it is the immanentization of the first horseman of the Apocalypse), based on his financial understanding. It is the first time I’ve come across something like this since I read Marshall Jeavons’ Murder At The Margin, which uses a detective story to teach Milton Friedman’s theories of economics.
Though based on almost academic principles, while recycling earlier tropes, such as mad servants and faithful servants, and financial tycoons intent on world domination, shows off Clem Chambers’ ability to program a readable thriller, I am not sure that the memory will linger beyond a holiday read.