The Bottom Line: John Le Carre fans will be mesmerized by this thoughtful, evocative spy novel set in the American southwest.
A.J. Marie’s debut thriller takes us back to 1980, an era where walkie-talkies, printed newspapers and sheepskin ruled the day. And yet, as vintage action heroes go, Marie’s Jay Chang is a rather complicated man. The son of a Mexican mother and Chinese father, Chang served in Vietnam as a Navy Seal before a tumultuous stint as an LA Times reporter. By the time Chang is woken by the phone call that will change his life once again, he’s living on a farm with his mother.
Chang hasn’t seen his Navy buddy Ed Collins for years, but that doesn’t stop his wife, Gail, from calling to enlist his help.
It seems that Ed Collins has gone missing without a trace. According to Gail, Ed had taken a new job as the assistant chief of security at a government lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Just when Chang is about to tell her to buzz off, she conveys one juicy detail: Ed’s former boss told her to keep quiet about his disappearance.
There may be no cell phones in Short Circuit, but two things haven’t changed in the past four decades: bad guys still carry AK-47s, and restless men are easily motivated by the promise of adventure. Chang soon finds himself on a plane to Santa Fe with no luggage and no real plan. Trouble finds him before he can start looking for it, but in the gripping chapters that follow, Chang’s investigative skills prove to be his true superpower.
Much like John Le Carre’s The Night Manager, Marie’s novel is no breathless page turner. Thankfully, Short Circuit is deliberately slow-paced and melancholy, lavishly establishing the sights and sounds of 20th century New Mexico as it builds tension chapter-over-chapter. We know from the get-go that Chang is getting in over his head, and that’s exactly what propels us onward until the very last page is read.