Book Review: The Minders by John Marrs
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Berkley Books (February 16, 2021)
Length: 416 pages
If you enjoyed John Marr’s The Passengers, then you should be no stranger to the exhilarating mood and over-the-top thrills of The Minders, his latest novel set in that same high-tech futuristic world of action.
Once more, our story sets out to explore the possible ramifications of cutting-edge technology on a population not quite ready for the potential dangers and pitfalls. Even as the internet continues to expand its reach and impact, cyber security is a never-ending arms race. After all, any computer can be hacked and sensitive information stolen, so the British government has developed a new and radical system to ensure that state secrets will always remain safe.
Subsequently, five citizens selected for a neurological condition which allows their brains to integrate and process massive amounts of information are recruited into this highly classified program. Designated “the Minders”, these men and women are put through a strict training regimen, then implanted with a tiny DNA bead containing the nation’s top secrets. Next, they are told to cut ties with everyone in their lives and move far away to random remote locations around the country known only to a single handler, essentially making them untraceable and presumably unhackable. In return for their services and sacrifice, in five years’ time the Minders will be released from their contract and rewarded with a sizeable paycheck, while any action to compromise the program or betray its secrets will be punished with legal action, jail time, or even execution.
These Minders are: Flick, a former restaurant owner who has lost all direction in her life and is questioning her own sanity after finding out from a DNA matchmaking service that her soulmate was a deranged serial killer (more on this later); Charlie, a 20-something who is feeling increasingly isolated and abandoned by his friends since he alone is the last among them to find a partner through DNA matching; Sinead, who is tired of being ground down by her controlling and emotionally abusive husband; and Bruno, whose wife had been killed in a self-driving car accident, leaving him to raise their autistic son alone. While these characters may come from disparate backgrounds, all of them are ready for a change and have nothing to lose—making them perfect for the Minders program.
But like I said, there are five Minders, and our final character is Emilia, who is the lynchpin to the entire plot. Suffering from amnesia, she wakes up one day to a man claiming to be her husband, but of course, she can’t remember him or anything at all. As the other Minders settle into their new lives, not all of them are adjusting well to the implant in their brain. Worse, despite all the safeguards put in place to preserve the program’s secrecy, somehow their identities have gotten out and now someone is hunting them down one by one.
It’s no exaggeration when I say there is a ton to unpack here. While The Minders can be read as a standalone, it is also the third novel set in the same world as two other John Marrs books, and the story frequently references certain events from both. For example, the self-driving car accident that claimed the life of Bruno’s wife was the result of the fallout from The Passengers, while the DNA matching system that had been causing Flick and Charlie so much misery was actually the premise of The One. Now, it’s okay if you haven’t the previous books, since I think for the most part Marrs does a pretty good job at catching you up. Still, moments of confusion are still possible. Case in point, I haven’t read The One and thought the DNA matchmaking system was just about the most absurd thing ever, though to be fair, I might not have, if I had gotten the full context.
That said, so much more about the book was far out there and completely bonkers. Take how the government “selected” the Minders, for instance, by putting out a brainteaser puzzle through a clickbaity ad on the internet which could only be solved by the kind of people they were looking for (a bit like that old Bruce Willis movie called Mercury Rising, and the fact that it was Bruno’s autistic son who actually solved the puzzle for him was also kind of reminiscent of that plot). And from there, it just gets weirder and wilder, not least of all the idea that the smartest and most highly qualified of Britain’s national defense and security experts were called together to come up with an impregnable and ultra-secure system to guard the nation’s top secrets, and the best they could come up with was to put all of it into the hands of five total basketcases who I wouldn’t even trust to walk my dogs.
In sum, it’s probably not worth the effort or energy picking apart everything in the story that doesn’t make sense, because let’s face it, your head will probably explode. If you’ve read The One or The Passengers, then you already know what to expect, and if not, the first handful of pages are enough to give you a good idea if this is the kind of book for you. Not going to lie, the story gets stupidly ridiculous and over-the-top at times, but if you can handle the tone, it can also be fantastic escapism and incredibly fun.