Stephenie Meyer is one of those authors who arouses mixed feelings on my part. I absolutely despised Twilight – although to be fair, I only read the first seven chapters before deciding there were too many great books to read without wasting my time on teenaged girls helplessly mooning after sparkly vampires. Then, I read The Host, and was quite surprised to realize Ms. Meyer could write something that appealed to me. So, when I saw The Chemist had just come out, I was curious to see if I would love it or hate it.
Our heroine is a woman who assumes new identities at the drop of a hat, and so, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to her as Alex, the name the hero calls her even after she’s moved on to something else. I must say I wish the author had stuck to one name, as keeping track of Alex’s numerous aliases was a little distracting and did pull me out of the story a few times. Granted, changing one’s name on a fairly regular basis seems to be an integral part of living a life on the run, but I wish it had been handled a bit differently so as not to be so confusing.
Before the story opens, Alex is a super-secret agent, working for an unnamed branch of the U.S. government. She is extremely skilled at torturing people by means of various chemical injections, and she is an invaluable part of the country’s fight against terrorism. Things soon begin to go south for Alex though, and before too long, she finds herself running for her life, struggling to stay one step ahead of the assassins her former employers send after her. At this point, you might be wondering why the government would wish to be rid of one of its top secret weapons. Well, that’s something I wondered about for quite some time, and the author does provide a very compelling answer that I will not reveal to you so as not to give away one of the book’s great reveals.
When we meet Alex, she receives an email from someone she used to work with. He admits people have been after her, but assures her he’ll spare her life if she agrees to do one last job for his unit. Alex is understandably wary, but her need to get to the bottom of what has been going on compels her to agree. Maybe this job will not only keep her alive, but will also answer some questions about her former line of work. I couldn’t help but feel Alex was seeking redemption for some of the horrible things she had done to people in the name of her country’s freedom, and though I questioned her methods of finding it, I hoped this last job would bring her some much-needed peace.
So, after meeting with her contact, Alex sets out in search of Daniel Beach, a schoolteacher her former boss is sure is on the verge of spreading a man-made plague. I realize this sounds rather outlandish, but I promise Ms. Meyer makes it all quite believable. After watching him and doing copious amounts of research into his life, Alex is ready to bring Daniel down. She flirts with him one morning as he is taking the train to work, then manages to drug him without his knowledge. When he tells her he’s not feeling well, she spins a story about being a local doctor and offers to take him to her office to have him checked out. Daniel agrees, and she whisks him away to an abandoned building where he suffers unspeakable torture at her hands.
As soon as she begins her interrogation, Alex begins to have doubts. Surely, someone as seemingly harmless as Daniel would spill everything he knows just to make the pain stop. But Daniel swears total ignorance of everything Alex is asking about, and she can’t understand it. Is she being set up, or do her former employers have the wrong man?
Then, someone breaks into the building, bringing the interrogation to a stop. Alex is surprised to see a man who looks like Daniel, but who is obviously more physically fit and turns out to be nearly her equal when it comes to getting information out of people. Soon, Alex and Daniel’s twin brother Kevin have formed a fragile alliance. They head west to a ranch Kevin owns, where they’ll lie low and make plans, teaching Daniel the things he needs to know in order to live as a successful fugitive.
It was obvious to me that Daniel and Alex would fall for each other. Personally, I would have liked to see her fall for Kevin, as the two of them had much more in common. There was also quite a bit of tension between them that could have led to more, had Ms. Meyer wished things to go that way. As heroes go, Daniel isn’t necessarily a bad one, but he’s definitely a little too good to be true. He doesn’t blame Alex at all for the pain she put him through, nor does he do much in the way of mourning for his old life. He’s initially quite incompetent at living life on the run, but that does get better. For these reasons, it’s hard to really believe in a romance between Daniel and the very practical, competent Alex.
The rest of the plot is full of numerous twists and turns that could prove more than a little confusing if you don’t pay very close attention. People are constantly being double-crossed, and plans change in the blink of an eye. Even so, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s not great literature, but something about it compelled me to finish it quickly. I needed to find out how things would turn out for Alex, Kevin, and Daniel.
If you’re looking for a romance you can lose yourself in, this might not be the book for you. However, if you’re a fan of fast-paced suspense with an element of romance, give The Chemist a try. It’s not Ms. Meyer’s strongest book, but I mostly enjoyed the time I spent reading it.