One of my greatest joys as a book critic is finding little known indie/self-published debut novels and championing them for the world to read (see: James Roberts‘ Pardon Me, or anything by Unsung Stories but particularly Rym Kechacha’s Dark River.) As such, I’m always open to queries and will rarely turn anything down, schedule permitting. So when this small press thriller came into my inbox, in my favorite genre no less, I was excited to get started.
The Tech is ostensibly the story of FBI Supervisory Special Agent Alexandra Cassidy, a unit leader whose specialty is whipping rogue and misfit teams into shape, partially due to her penchant for rule-breaking herself. She’s sent to Arizona to take charge of yet another ragtag crew but finds herself hip deep in a bank robbery investigation almost as soon as she walks into the office. The case is wrapped up within 24 hours, and then the team is sent to investigate the kidnapping of three teenaged girls, leading to a multi-state bust in record time. Alexandra is a little disconcerted at the high success rate she’s clocking, but her concerns are quickly swept aside by the growing suspicion that these and other cases that are filtering into the office are related, and may have been masterminded by a sinister cabal that will soon turn its sights on her. But somebody else is already pulling her strings: an attractive, if mild-mannered FBI tech named Mike Patterson who’s hiding any number of secrets from Alexandra and her team.
The first problem with this FBI thriller is that none of this is how the American judicial system works. Witnesses are Mirandized but assured they’re not under arrest, and warrants are handed out almost willy-nilly. Don’t even get me started on the complete illegality of everything Mike does and how the half-assed attempts to turn his evidence into stuff that’ll hold up in court is doubtful at best. It’s pretty clear that this book was written by someone without much experience with America, never mind the local law enforcement: in just the most memorable example, no New Yorker in their right mind would pronounce the Texan city the same way they’d pronounce Houston St, if they pronounced that last correctly. The dialog overall is heavily British-inflected which, alas, is only the least of the things that strain credulity to its breaking point in this novel.
Displaying more of this lack of attention to detail, alongside lapses in logic and internal consistency, were the characterizations. Mark Ravine has a habit of telling instead of showing, which means that character behavior whipsaws from one scene to another, rendering any development half-baked at best. Even with our ostensible main character Alexandra: what’s up with her Russian background and why would she think anyone cares? Her heritage might be an issue were this set during the Cold War, but some thirty years on, it would not automatically disqualify her, especially given how the present-day FBI embraces having agents with a native-level command of foreign languages. So it was hella weird to have all the “wink wink, we know your grandparents are Russian” bits in the book when that’s a total nothingburger, and only seemed to set the stage for various of her co-workers to display way too much knowledge of her personal life.
Which leads, unfortunately, to the absolute worst, most ludicrous part of this book: Alexandra falling for Mike. How any woman with half a brain would think Mike was anything but creeper central is beyond me. He knows all her favorite things before he’s even met her in person, and is clearly spying on her constantly, with a side of behaving “masterfully”, gag. The book very quickly becomes a Barry Sue of Mike being good at everything and attractive to all the ladies, when in real life, he’d be the creepy, controlling guy all the women in the office avoid. Dude is a restraining order waiting to happen.
I kinda feel that The Tech was written by someone who hasn’t had a lot of exposure to the emotions of a wide range of people, and who hasn’t had to drill down into thinking why people behave and respond in certain ways to different situations. It was also surprisingly draggy for being almost 500+ shallowly written pages, likely a result of the “tell instead of show” ethos that gave each character less depth than a layer of cardboard. The Tech would have been better served by being broken down into several books that were a lot more thoughtful about their characterizations, as well as better researched in dialog, localization and procedure. Mr Ravine should consider workshopping lots of short fiction to better sharpen the various authorial skills he’ll need in his repertoire before tackling another ambitious procedural like this one.
The Tech by Mark Ravine was published February 3rd, 2020 by Dawn Hill Publications, and is available from