by Alexander Jablokov
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765322005
Date: 05 January 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Tor calls Brain Thief by Alexander Jablokov a fun, literate speculative fiction adventure.
Bernal Haydon-Rumi, the executive assistant to a wealthy eccentric, receives a cryptic message from his employer Muriel Inglis. He goes to her home only to find her missing and the house in disarray. All the clues to solve the mystery are in Muriel's bedroom, but Bernal fails to understand their significance and embarks on a long chase to find answers. The prose is polished, but the plot is convoluted and relies too much on coincidence.
He searches for her and glimpses her fleeing in a pink nightgown. He gives chase, but she steals a Mercedes standing in the drive of her neighbor. A man intercepts him, angry over the stolen vehicle, and then hits him over the head.
When he recovers consciousness, he discovers his own car missing. He cleans up in Muriel's bathroom and then finds his car has been returned. Determined to locate Muriel and led on by mysterious messages from her, he goes to the laboratory of Madeline Ungaro, a scientist working on AI projects funded by Muriel. The current one, called Hesketh, is a putative planetary exploration vehicle.
More mysteries await him including a private investigator, Charis Fen, who claims a long acquaintanceship with Muriel. She hates AIs and wants to destroy Hesketh. One thing leads to another and it takes Bernal some time to work out all the clues to determine what happened to Muriel and on what Madeline was working. Tangled skeins include a strange man who once worked for a cryogenics firm that specialized in preserving the heads of clients, the niece of a man who used their services whose uncle's head now appears missing, a drug dealer, a thief who specializes in antiques, UFO chasers, a tow truck driver, a mysterious serial killer who wants human heads, and miscellaneous others.
Some characters speak for the author's view of the world and major issues. Jablokov uses dialogue and other information dumps, but takes the reader on a hectic ride with Bernal. This is his fifth novel.