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The Chemist: 03/07/09

Debut novel The Chemist by Janson Mancheski introduces Detective Cale Van Waring and a new mystery series. The book is set in Green Bay Wisconsin, an unusual but refreshing location.

The Chemist opens with the kidnapping of a young woman by a man calling himself the Chemist. As things switch to Van Waring's point of view, we learn that she is the forth woman to go missing, one of whom has been found decapitated in Lake Michigan. With her body, Van Waring is running on the assumption that the other women are dead too.

Mancheski peppers the mystery with enough red herrings to keep one guessing. I fell victim to one of them on page 75 when I was sure he had revealed the killer's identity. I worried that the book would suffer from too small a cast of characters. Fortunately, though, the book went on a completely different direction and opened up the fictional world to include a number of possible but wrong leads. This approach added to the suspense (especially later when the Chemist's identity is revealed to the reader) while making the proceedural aspect of this mystery feel more realistic.

My only quibble is with the ending. Without giving anything away, I felt cheated by the choice to go with the melodramatic ending over the a more straight-up conclusion to the investigation. There could have still be a dramtic rescue and a show down without the contrivances. After all the convincing world building and characterization, the ending flung the fact that I was reading fiction right back in my face.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed The Chemist and am looking forward to future books in the series. Janson Mancheski's website mentions that he's working on a second book. I am curious what sort of case Cale Van Waring's next one will be.

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