Thriller Thursday Audio: Mastermind by Andrew Mayne
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: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 1 of Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (September 7, 2021)
Length: 9 hrs and 59 mins
Narrators: Jennifer O’Donnell, Will Damron
Guess who’s back, and not alone this time? Our favorite computation biologist Theo Cray has resurfaced from when we last saw him at the end of Dark Pattern, the fourth book in The Naturalist series, but now he is joined by Jessica Blackwood, the star of another one of Andrew Mayne’s popular mystery thrillers. The author has said these two are his favorite characters, and even though I have not read the Jessica Blackwood books yet, I know enough about them and the protagonist’s reputation that when I first heard about Mastermind, I could hardly wait to get my hands on this opener to a new spinoff series featuring this brilliant partnership.
It was just another typical evening in New York City when the story opens, full of the regular hustle and bustle of sightseeing tourists and residents hurrying home from work. Without warning, all of it comes to a screeching halt as a mysterious storm descends upon Manhattan, plunging everything into darkness. Engulfed in a thick warm fog, the entire island looks to have disappeared, leaving a dark vast void in its wake. Initial attempts to reach those within the area have been met with failure, owing to the fact that the storm had knocked out all electricity and cell service.
FBI Special Agent Jessica Blackwood, having dealt with weird, difficult cases before, is immediately called to the scene. Surveying the effects of the storm, Jessica knows right away that this had to be a deliberate attack. The proficiency, trickery and sheer showmanship behind the act are the hallmarks of her old nemesis, the serial killer and cult leader Michael Heywood, also known as the Warlock. To Jessica, it all just seems so obvious, especially in light of Heywood’s recent escape from prison, but for some reason, no one else seems interested in heading down this investigative path, and it’s driving her crazy.
Meanwhile, in a prison in Myanmar where he had been captured by the local government for trying to distribute unauthorized medical aid to their people, Theo Cray has been starved and ill-treated for months. Little did he know, his name had come up as a person of interest in the probe into the New York City incident. Only when Jessica Blackwood shows up to his rescue does he find out all about what happened with the storm, and having followed the news of the Warlock closely, he understands why she has reason to suspect Heywood, and the danger they are all in now if her suspicions turn out to be true. As more cities start going dark, falling victim to the phenomenon now being called the Void, Theo and Jessica must race against the clock to track down a psychotic genius and put a stop to whatever he has planned.
Having been thoroughly preoccupied with Mayne’s Underwater Investigative Unit as of late, which is his new detective series that is far tamer in comparison, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the wilder, over-the-top scenarios that are more characteristic of The Naturalist books until I started reading Mastermind! Oh, Theo, never change. From cities seemingly vanishing into thin air to a terrifying battle with a troop of rampaging chimps, there appears to be no limits as to how crazy things will get. Still, if you’ve read the author before, then you should be no stranger to his style. You should also know that there’s always method to the madness, some clarity to the chaos whenever we get into the science and technology in his books. Many of the scenarios that Theo and Jessica find themselves in might be on the extreme side, but very often too there’s sound research behind the concepts.
I am also loving the dynamic and even the romantic tensions between our two protagonists. I suppose it’s only natural to bring the two of them into an eventual relationship, but I was surprised how well it worked for me, considering how Theo isn’t typically someone you would call boyfriend material (just look at how his last relationship imploded to see what I mean). Jessica, who strikes me as someone whose passions run high, wouldn’t seem like a good match for him at first glance, but I’m pleasantly surprised to far, if not completely onboard. The next book in the series will reveal more, I hope, and in the meantime, I am also enjoying their working partnership a lot. Whereas Theo can sometimes become fixated and myopic on a certain subject, I’ve noticed Jessica tends to see the full picture. Whereas he can be overanalytical, she is also better at reading the overall mood. And while they’re both very intelligent and used to fighting their way out of trouble, he’s more book smart and she’s more street smart. Overall, their strengths complement each other very well, and together they make a formidable mystery solving team.
Finally, I happy to say it’s not compulsory to read any of The Naturalist books or the Jessica Blackwood series before tackling Mastermind, because I think the author catches you pretty well. But, speaking as someone who’s only familiar with Theo Cray before this, having knowledge of at least one of the characters would probably help. After reading this novel though, I’m interested in picking up Jessica’s books now more than ever. Angel Killer has already been on my reading list for a while, and I guess I really shouldn’t wait any longer.
All in all, Mastermind was pretty awesome. Andrew Mayne is a must-read author for me, and not only is Theo Cray my favorite of his creations, he’s probably also one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. To see him paired up with Jessica Blackwood was a treat, and I am glad Mayne already has plans to have these two together again for a sequel, and hopefully there will be even more adventures after that.
Audiobook Comments: Jennifer O’Donnell and Will Damron take on narrator duties here, reading Jessica Blackwood and Theo Cray’s parts respectively, and they are truly spectacular as a team. The story’s fast pacing, delicious intrigue and non-stop action elements also make this audiobook a highly engaging and enjoyable listen. Absolutely recommended.