If you think you’ve had an interesting life, consider Glenn Cooper. He studied archaeology at Harvard, became a physician, specialized in the treatment of infectious diseases, worked as a researcher, became the CEO of a biotechnology company, runs an independent film production company, and has written several screenplays. On top of all this, he is also an extremely inventive and entertaining writer, as SECRET OF THE SEVENTH SON, his debut novel, demonstrates.
SECRET OF THE SEVENTH SON is an intelligent thriller with down-to-earth, realistic characters populating a story that you won’t be able to put down for even a minute. The book spans over 1,300 years of history, but is set primarily in the here and now around an FBI agent named Will Piper. A legendary profiler who has solved more than his share of serial killer cases, Piper is burned out and seemingly incapable of a relationship with anyone who isn’t named Johnny Walker Black. He receives an unwanted shot at redemption when nine different individuals die after receiving anonymous postcards that seem to predict the date of their death, and correctly so.
Piper, reluctantly joining Nancy Lipinski, his equally reluctant partner, begins an investigation that attempts to find a nexus among the seemingly unrelated victims in the hope that a trail can be followed back to an apparently omnipresent murderer. Just as Piper and Lipinski pursue a lead that seems to go back to Piper’s own past, however, they are pulled off of the case. Their investigation, it turns out, threatens to reveal a secret that has been hidden for over a millennium and meticulously researched since the end of World War II at a secretive facility in a part of Nevada known to the rest of the world as Area 51, with the joint cooperation of the United States and Great Britain.
It’s not what you think, and the concept is relatively simple, involving nothing more than information. But what information it is. Piper, unwilling to stand down on his investigation, goes rogue, making a cross country journey to a confrontation with the past. Pursued by his own agency, as well as a secretive group charged with preserving one of the most important secrets in history, Piper is determined to discover the cause of the deaths of nine people and bring the perpetrator to judgment. His conundrum is that if he uncovers the secret, he cannot be permitted to live.
SECRET OF THE SEVENTH SON may be a little unsettling to some readers at first, as the narration, like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, jumps from time to time to time. Hang in with Cooper, however; there is a method to his madness, as well as mystery, adventure and everything else we love in a thriller novel. And he knows precisely what he’s doing. Fans of Dan Brown and Steve Berry will find much to love here, even though it’s very different from books written by those gentlemen. And, as a bonus, there’s a generous excerpt from Cooper’s next novel included here.
Ultimately, however, SECRET OF THE SEVENTH SON is, above all else, a haunting work: once you’ve finished the last page, I guarantee you will be asking yourself what you would do if you had the secret in your possession. It’s the type of question --- and story --- that can, and will, keep you up all night.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011