Author: Kevin Guilfoile

2010, Knopf

Filed Under: Thriller, Mystery, Sci-Fi

Part of me wants to discuss how much I enjoyed this book, and part of me wants to focus on how it bites off more than it can chew. As I wrote in a Read This, Not That entry last week, The Thousand is quite entertaining and does a few things right, but there’s also a solid chunk of the book that would have been better left out.

Basially, this book centers around 4 connected murders. As the book opens, superstar classical composer Solomon Gold allegedly kills a woman during a tryst. Solomon himself is murdered soon after. We’re told right away his lawyer did it, but he’s not even on the investigators’ radar. The case goes cold. Gold had completed a famously unfinished Mozart requiem–one that supposedly could unlock the secrets to the universe, because it doubled as the mathematic equation for perfection. The manuscript is never recovered (the murderous lawyer, Reggie Vallentine, has it but can’t decifer it) and falls into a sort of legend.

Flash forward a couple decades, and Nada Gold, Solomon’s daughter, is living in Las Vegas. She had a computer implanted in her head as a child, an experimental treatment for ADHD. This leaves her with what is pretty much a super brain. She is perfectly observent and has a memory like a database. She uses this to game blackjack tables in Vegas, until she leaves town suddenly for Chicago. Just as she departs, someone murders a doctor, the very one who implanted Nada’s device. The murder weapon is the same gun that felled Solomon. From here, a number of story lines branch out.

Wayne, a pit boss with feelings for Nada who fears her abducted, sets out to find her when she disappears from Vegas. He is framed for another murder, which is linked to the doctor’s death as well. The cop on Wayne’s tail gets a good chunk of book too. He is always a few steps behind, but it is he who pieces together the clues about a number of players involved with an ancient secret society of Pythagorean followers known as The Thousand.

In Guilfoile’s world, Pythagoras uncovered more knowledge than modern science has yet to. The Thousand are the keepers of said knowledge, charged with slowly doling it out over millennia and ensuring the whole truth is never unveiled. They can’t let it all out because once the cat is out of the bag, the world will end somehow. Nada doesn’t know it, but the The Thousand are after her for her brain. The pit boss is seeking Nada too, in the hopes of saving her.

The existence of an actual hidden knowledge able to end the world cheapens the book. Using Pythagoras’s teachings, The Thousand are able to manipulate anything mechanical however they please. For instance, a major setting for the latter portion of the book is a Chicago overrun with riots due to a blackout, because the society can easily shut down Con Ed for as long as they need. There’s also two factions of The Thousand, who are feuding (currently over what to do with Nada’s device), adding unnecessary complexity to an already overburdened premise. The novel would have been better with The Thousand as a shadow organization that merely looms.

What worked was the mystery, and the characters. I liked Nada’s brain “spider” and how it shaped her into a unique character–I’ve read in a few places she’s a bit of a knockoff of Stieg Larsson’s dragon tattoo girl, but I haven’t read those books–and the visions of existential clarity seen by artist Burning Patrick, who underwent the same surgery as Nada. The mystery was tight, and the stuff it centered on was interesting. The Thousand bringing down a plane via a single phone battery left in a powered down device: that was dumb. Two bodies separated by 10 years killed by the same gun offers far more tension than 200 bodies brought down by a phone battery and archaic mathematical magic.

All told, this book is very much worth reading. The mystery is gripping and well plotted. Guilfoile gives a lot of answers upfront, but he also holds some of the right cards close to his chest. The suspense held up by the web of the interweaving story lines is compelling and fun to read. If you’re a Dan Brown reader, you should definitely read this book, because this is an upgrade. I will read Guilfoile’s next book, and if he abandons the overly supernatural elements, he might create something great.

Similar Reads: The secret guarded by the thousand is very similar to the core concept in the movie “Pi”. For good mysteries, check out Nico’s round-up of Edgar-nominated novels.