Review: Smart by Joel Mentmore

★★★★ Smart by Joel Mentmore

Smart by Joel Mentmore provides a tangled knot of conspiracy, technology and corporate intrigue.

Armed with a bizarre cast of characters and a twisted knot of a plot, Smart definitely lives up to its name. While there were a few weak points and the occasional stumble in continuity, the rabbit hole of this strange narrative is too fascinating to avoid. The ambitiously complex plot, full of shadowy goons, threatening government agents, artificially intelligent (homicidal?) technology and backdoor business interests, is the strong foundation of this truly riveting and prescient ride.

Jon has gone missing, his sister Jac is on the case, Jon’s girlfriend Anka seems to know more than she’s letting on, and Skull, the unlikely hero, is roped into a dangerous world of corporate intrigue after Jon cryptically reaches out for help. A “killer” smartphone is at the crux of this tech-inspired thriller, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Jon’s disappearance has much heavier implications – and more powerful players.

As the puzzle pieces begin to appear, Skull’s reluctance to get involved shifts to curiosity for the truth, leading him through a gamut of Russian thugs, mysterious boxes, half-truths and deadly secrets. Sinister black cars always seem to be in the proverbial rear view mirror, while covert meetings and revelatory flashback scenes grant readers the constant adrenaline rush of conspiracy.

Mentmore’s writing is terse and snappy, without many wasted words, and there is a genuine feel to the dialogue that makes the process of reading enjoyable and addictive. Perhaps more importantly, the writing is beautifully penned, and the narrative passages are rich with description and metaphor, welcoming readers into a literary playground where the author’s talents are on full display. His memorable turns of phrase have the careful crafting of a much more experienced author:

In the quixotic world of technology startups, the narrative of defeat has the power of parable. He hoped they’d offer him a job so he could have the pleasure of turning them down. Both parties despised each other instinctively; consequently, they drank more heartily, swearing lasting friendships and successful future partnerships.

The occasional grammatical mistakes were slightly annoying, as so much else about this book was “perfect”, for all intents and purposes. This made the lack of a final polish edit all the more obvious, but not too detracting from the overall quality. Some of the more subtly buried allusions and foreshadowing moments could also have been highlighted, while various peripheral scenes could have been shortened or eliminated entirely. There is obvious value in red herrings within a thriller, but unnecessary characters and extended scenes that lack an ultimate purpose are often more distracting than developmental.

This novel is ultra-modern, and its greatest strength is the frightening questions it raises about our technology-obsessed world: How much control have millions of people given to the tools sitting idly in their pockets? Who is attempting to use those same tools to plot against the world? Can anything be done to change this path, or is modern society already too far gone?

This is a book for today – for the present generation – and will have a definite impact on those who rely on technology for so much in their lives. Mentmore’s novel is clever in the best way – tapping into readers’ suppressed fears, leading them on a merry chase through the underbelly of London, and delivering a knockout finish that no one will see coming.

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