It's a long time since I read a thriller where I really CARED about the characters and what was happening to them, but everything in The Firemaker is so vivid and convincing that I was completely gripped by it from the first page. The characters in this book are truly three-dimensional and their dialogue is bursting with humour, wit, anger, and passion. I immediately found myself believing in these people and getting caught up in their lives and their relationships. Consequently, as the plot moved forward and I began to realise that they had become involved in something very big and potentially lethal, the build-up of tension towards the conclusion was almost unbearable. This was heightened by the awareness - if you read the acknowledgments - that the science in this story isn't fiction, but fact, and that the scenario described is absolutely possible. So it's a plot which is frightening - not just because of the consequences for the characters in the book, but because of what could potentially happen in reality to all of us. Somebody out there HAS to make a movie of The Firemaker! But until that happens it's certainly no hardship to make do with the book. Peter May's outstanding descriptions of Beijing life leave you with the sensation that you've actually been there, on the streets, mixing with the locals. He has the ability to colour in the background, immersing you in the sights, sounds and smells of Beijing without holding up the plot with unnecessary details.
The Firemaker works on every level. The exotic Beijing setting; the intricate procedural work of the Beijing detective, Li Yan and the American pathologist, Margaret Campbell and their complex relationship; and a plot which twists and turns towards a terrifying denouement. Above all - it's a thoroughly entertaining read, with lots of humour as well as drama, and even a love story thrown in for good measure!