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The Technologists: 12/15/12

cover art

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl is about a group of friends in the first graduating class of the yet-to-be-accredited Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) trying to solve the mystery behind some strange incidents in Boston. The first of these is the dissolving of the glass in a city block. The other is a ship running aground because its compass was way off.

At the head of the group is Marcos Mansfield, the school's charity case. He's a Civil War vet and he's on a full scholarship. His name right away is a clue to one of the one of the book's biggest flaws: a fully fictional lead cast written by an author who up until now has specialized in placing historical figures in fictional situations. The hokey but symbolic names (Mansfield, being for instance the "Fanny Price" of this novel), were a huge distraction for me.

The next problem is the age of the characters. In his previous books, Pearl's protagonists are older — midlife — and well established in their careers. They therefore have believable means and knowledge to accomplish the tasks at hand. Here though, we have college students. Yes, they're about to graduate, and yes, they're described as being the best of the best but that still doesn't give them the same level of on-hand expertise that Dicken's American publisher would have in The Last Dickens.

Since Mansfield and his buddies don't come preloaded with the credibility needed to jump into the investigation, the book spends an unfortunate hundred and fifty pages or so building their characters up to the point that they seem plausible as investigators for these tech crimes.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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