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The Dead Chip Syndicate

by Andrew W. Pearson

Rating: ****

Forty-seven-year-old failed screenwriter Anthony Wilson leaves Hollywood behind to help run the Asian arm of his twin brother’s AI company.

Once in Macau, Anthony’s client is a prominent and infamous casino operator, Cash Cheang. Cash wants Anthony to design a facial recognition software package for his casino and enlists him to help sell a new crypto coin. As the money piles up, so does the laundering, corruption, and betrayal. But is the biggest treachery orchestrated by Cyrus, Anthony’s twin?...

The Dead Chip Syndicate begins in March 2019, eight months ahead of most of the novel. It’s horribly obvious that things, whatever they might be, have not particularly gone accordingly to plan for Anthony.

It’s a strong, confident, and accomplished start that sets up several questions and avenues of curiosity for the reader. Not only is it clear that Anthony has made some serious enemies in Macau, but it’s also transparent that his relationship with his twin, Cyrus, is nastily complicated to the point of being biblical.

Chapter Four takes the reader back and straight into the mind-bogglingly excessive, indulgent, high-stakes, murky world of Cash Cheang, tearing around Macau in his lime-green Lamborghini with Anthony along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. Cash is both a prototypical character and a nebulous one. The reader and Anthony are never quite sure who he is and what he’s up to. But, rest assured, there is not much he isn’t up to, and he’s up to his neck.

Although Cash drives the early part of the narrative, The Dead Chip Syndicate is a novel that moves between sub-genres surprisingly yet capably. The thriller framework harbors several elements that simmer away, including family drama, romance, and a supremely interesting if terrifying commentary on the socio-political anthropology of the Chinese elite.

Pearson knows this world, geographically and culturally, incredibly well and Macau fascinates and repels in equal measure. Notwithstanding, The Dead Chip Syndicate may have benefitted from footnotes or a glossary for clarification, especially regarding the cryptocurrency and gambling vernacular, which can become a touch overwhelming in places. A map of Macau may also have been beneficial.

Nonetheless, Anthony who begins the novel somewhat enigmatically and seemingly unassuming develops into a complex and single-minded character with several layers and motivations.

He is open about his time as a screenwriter and as events in the Far East escalate, the references to Hollywood and, writing, in general, become strangely integral to the story taking place on the opposite side of the world.

Indeed, whilst the duplicity is running, The Dead Chip Syndicate also evolves to become a novel about a novel and might be the novel that Anthony writes which, subsequently, becomes a film. This literary hall of mirrors possibly shouldn’t work amid an intricate Asian thriller but it does.

Anthony’s toxic dynamic with Cyrus is riveting. Anthony appears as the weaker twin hampered by a sense of inferiority, but, as the story progresses, and the reader is made aware of what occurred at boarding school, this impression of Anthony alters intriguingly.

However, it could be leveled that Detective Fonseca is the real star of The Dead Chip Syndicate. Perceptive, morally casual, occasionally menacing yet oddly principled, he and Anthony verbally thrust and parry with mutual disdain laced with grudging respect, and their loaded exchanges make for gripping reading.

Anthony’s situation with Vivian personally lacked conviction. Their connection seemed forced, and I was not surprised by the end game. Despite this, her presence was certainly required within the novel and she is utilized better in the earlier scenes.

Overall, The Dead Chip Syndicate is a deeply engrossing, insightful, and stylish novel that proves difficult to put down. Well worth a look.

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