Book Review: Skin in the Game, a new Conspiracy Thriller by Tomas Byrne

The Bottom Line: A breathtakingly intense conspiracy thriller ripped straight from the headlines. Brilliant characterization and a riveting global puzzle will have Jason Bourne fans clamoring for Byrne’s next installment in the series.

“Do you believe in conspiracies?” That’s the telling question MI6 psychiatrist Kate Farrow asks her patient, Subject 13, in Tomas Byrne’s excellent new thriller.

Lucky for us, Subject 13 does believe in conspiracies. The patient, whose real name we learn over time, has come to Kate courtesy of her boss, Dr. Krug. A widely respected psychologist and neurologist, Krug introduces Subject 13 as an imminent threat with links to fundamentalist terror groups operating in Central Asia.

But the much younger and less experienced Farrow soon begins to suspect all isn’t what it seems. Her patient has amnesia and suffers from frequent outbursts. After witnessing Subject 13 rattling off an incredibly vivid set of landscape descriptions that would be the envy of any poet, she discovers that Dr. Krug has been giving him a pharma cocktail consisting of methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and phencyclidine – truth serum. “Truth Serum?” Kate protests. “They’re not only ineffective, they’re medieval.”

If you read the news, this story is starting to sound incredibly familiar and relevant right now. Skin in the Game is a great ride on its own merits, but the recent investigation into the psychologists that masterminded the CIA’s torture program during the Bush administration gives the book a timely, ripped-from-the-headlines factor that makes it all the more fascinating.

The ensuing plot globetrots from London to Zurich, Dubai and elsewhere, working at the intersection of government intelligence and finance. Unlike most of the work in the genre, Byrne writes in the present tense, giving the story an added sense of urgency.

Skin in the Game is the first in a series, so fans can look forward to more of Kate Farrow. But should Eric Van Lustbader ever get tired of writing Robert Ludlum’s Bourne franchise, Tomas Byrne would make a very capable replacement.

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