Plot: Chris Yee's plotting in the high-tech crime thriller Serial Cortex is smart and twisted, with every surprise revelation also pleasingly inevitable in hindsight. As his characters attempt to enter the mind of a prostitute accused of being a serial killer, Yee proves adept at introducing fantastical high-tech plot elements, such as the rules for detectives interacting with the suspect's memories, and then dazzles by seizing every opportunity for suspense or shock that those rules offer. Meanwhile, the real-world exploits and betrayals of the novel’s scientists and cops are tense and arresting.
Prose/Style: Yee's prose is crisp, propulsive, and exciting. Crucially for a techno-thriller, Serial Cortex is always clear and persuasive when establishing its rules, in this case the specifics of how "thought-hopping" tech allows the characters to enter the brains of the murder suspect. The dialogue is breezy, chipper, and often funny. Like Yee's description, the prose is trimmed to the bone and polished.
Originality: Neither the brain-insertion company nor the thought of entering a killer's brain is particularly fresh, but Yee's characters, inventive incidents, and surprising revelations mostly make up for that.
Character Development: Yee's tendency not to waste words means the book skips by quite quickly with no extra or unnecessary detail. That can be problematic in a mystery story, as here the few stray character details that Yee offers us about the members of his Serial Crimes Bureau stand out so much that it's little surprise when they come back later in the story as revelations. Readers will likely sense the blatant foreshadowing immediately; yet, while Yee still manages to surprise with how these elements play out, readers will have little trouble keeping track of all these shoes that his story is going to drop. Serial Cortex is more convincing in its depiction of the brain than it is in its depiction of policework or running a startup tech company. His detectives spend too little time considering the ethics or admissibility of sedating a suspect to root around inside her brain to gather evidence, especially considering the fact that this exposes her to risk of brain damage. Meanwhile, readers will likely wonder why a tech company with miraculous technology that can insert a person's consciousness into another's brain is suffering such cashflow problems.
Date Submitted: April 01, 2020