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The Dead Chip Syndicate
Andrew W. Pearson
Pearson’s first work of fiction draws on his experience in the field of providing AI solutions to casinos in Southeast Asia in this high-rolling literary thriller. Anthony Wilson takes up a job in his twin brother Cyrus’s company and arrives in Macau to oversee the implementation of face recognition technology for client casinos. He befriends Cash Cheang, a flamboyant crypto king. Cash wants Anthony to write his biography and also to help sell his new cryptocoin venture, a floating casino. As he falls for Vivian Liu, a member of Cash’s team with an agenda of her own, Anthony realizes that Cash holds explosive secrets that could incriminate bigwigs in the Chinese bureaucracy. It all gets murkier still when Detective Fonseca warns Anthony that there’s a killer out to get him.

Pearson’s knowledge of the milieu and the over-the-top characters who run it gives the material a bustling verisimilitude, as Cash, a pompadoured devotee of American country music, and company scheme, dream, and preen—Cash moves, Pearson writes, with “the confident trot of a honey badger on the prowl for a late afternoon snack of King Cobra.” A screenwriter who never got his break, Anthony’s an observant, relatable protagonist, blessed with acerbic wit, grim humor and a propensity to dish out quotes in the oddest of situations (“they make me look smarter than I really am,” he admits.) His uneasy relationship with his twin, where it’s his role to sacrifice for the other, is also delineated well.

Pearson’s prose is savvy and brisk but with sharp edges, and the novel will both delight and disgust readers fascinated with wealth and power run amok. A killer is introduced in the first chapter but then mostly forgotten, a quirk that could come from one of the unproduced screenplays Anthony describes, and the pandemic plays a surprising role as the plot twists reveal themselves. As a thriller, The Dead Chip Syndicate never develops much tension, but it’s quick, surprising, and alive with memorable talk and striking detail.

Takeaway: Stylish thriller embroils a screenwriter in Macau casinos, crypto, and secrets.

Comparable Titles: Lawrence Osborne’s The Ballad of a Small Player, Eric Stone.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A