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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ARC Review: The Furnace by Timothy S. Johnston

I’ve spent so long reading romance that I’d forgotten how much I enjoy good straight-up crime fiction. Considering I cut my reading teeth on Agatha Christie’s entire collection of Hercule Poirot mysteries, it should come as no surprise that a classic whodunit is my favourite genre after romantic suspense. So when debut author Timothy S. Johnston’s futuristic science fiction/murder mystery/technothriller hybrid THE FURNACE showed up on my radar, I jumped at the chance to revisit my reading roots. Channeling the dame of the locked-room mystery, Agatha Christie, and the father of the modern technothriller, Michael Crichton—and throwing in a bit of The Bodysnatchers and some Isaac Asimov—Mr. Johnston delivers a tautly-paced high-stakes whodunit with a great (but small) cast of characters… and even manages to throw in some romance!

THE FURNACE is first and foremost a locked-room story: a gruesome murder has taken place on the isolated solar harvesting station SOLEX One and homicide investigator Lieutenant Kyle Tanner of the Confederate Combined Forces is dispatched by the powers that be in the Terran Confederacy (the militarized authoritarian government of 2401 AD scattered all over the solar system) to investigate. One dead body, fourteen suspects, and a nine-module space station five million kilometres from the sun. The locked-room mystery takes true talent to do well, since the author must create tension and a sense of danger in a confined space whilst still keeping the reader guessing about the identity of the perpetrator(s). Mr. Johnston establishes that tension from the moment Tanner boards the ship in Mercury that will take him to SOLEX: an orbit so close to the sun that it requires special heat and radiation shields, infrequent communications with the command post in Mercury, slim possibilities of a rescue launched from Mercury, and scarce means of escape. It is clear that SOLEX is a dangerous place and one misstep can prove fatal. To make matters worse, the environment deteriorates severely over the course of the story, ramping up the tension even more and increasing the sense of urgency in unraveling the mystery. And, of course, the potential murder Tanner is sent to investigate is not the only one: the tension ratchets up as the body count increases and everyone is a suspect—including Tanner. Mr. Johnston fosters that intense, isolated feeling so well that I found myself needing to put the book down briefly to take a breather before diving back into the story. [And looking at everyone sideways, lest they suddenly attack me and chop off my head and hands].

The identity and motivation of the perpetrator(s) are revealed halfway through the novel, so the narrative shifts from Christie-esque whodunit to full-on action-packed thriller where the question is not who the villain is but how to stop him/her and save the universe in the eighteen hours before all power in the station fails and SOLEX disintegrates. Though there is a strong focus on science and technology throughout the novel, the material is explained in great detail and is approachable to readers of all backgrounds. Even as skeptical as those of us well versed in science are wont to be about science fiction, the science aspects are solid and interesting and raise many questions about technological advancement and morality that make THE FURNACE an intellectually-stimulating read in addition to being a well-crafted thriller. And despite being primarily a plot-driven story, the character of Kyle Tanner holds everything together: a real, human character wracked by guilt for the death of his only friend (which he believes to be his fault for failing to crack a case more quickly) who works tirelessly to apprehend criminals. The first-person narrative is written from Tanner’s perspective, so we get great insight into this compelling character as he grapples with the frustration of a case that seems to be going nowhere and the betrayal of his military comrades, and finds love with one of the SOLEX inhabitants.

Overall, THE FURNACE was a gripping page-turner that captured my interest from page one and didn’t let up until the end. Readers beware: there is a moderate amount of violence and slight gore given the high body count and nature of the murders, but fans of Crichton or Patterson or science-inspired technothrillers looking for a well-written, fast-paced read should definitely pick this one up. Mr. Johnston does a great job creating the futuristic human world ruled by the Terran Confederacy and making Kyle Tanner an engaging character we want more of. I’m already looking forward to the next two books in The Tanner Sequence series, THE FREEZER and THE VOID.

**ARC provided by Author**

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  1. Glad you enjoyed Timothy S. Johnston as much as I did...I too found it very gripping and had to put it down to catch my breath! I am looking forward to the next book from this author, The Freezer!!!