Invasive by Chuck Wendig

HarperCollins | 2016 | 384p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Invasive by Chuck WendigHannah Stander works for the FBI as a futurist. It’s her job to investigate crimes committed with technology so cutting-edge it can defy belief. And when FBI agent Hollis Cooper calls to let her know that a thousand dead bodies have been found in a cabin in New York State, Hannah finds herself at the centre of the puzzle of her life.

Instead of a thousand dead bodies, Hannah discovers in the cabin the corpse of a man stripped of his skin by thousands of ants that now lie dead around him. Hannah’s entomologist friend Ez Choi friend reveals that these are no ordinary ants, they have been engineered into man-eating monsters and their genetic markers suggest that they have been made by a biotech company in Hawaii owned by the charismatic and ridiculously rich Icelandic philanthropist and environmentalist, Einar Geirsson. Hannah has no option but to take the case to him on his island that might not be quite the tropical paradise it first appears.

I am huge fan of Michael Crichton’s techno thrillers, such as Jurassic Park, Airframe, Next, Prey and Micro, and as soon as I heard about Invasive I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. The fact that I’ve also recently read and loved Ezekiel Boone’s spidery horror The Hatching didn’t hurt a bit. A novel about engineered skin-eating killer ants on the rampage? Irresistible.

There are elements of Invasive that remind me of Jurassic Park in particular but I soon came to the conclusion that this is no bad thing and I lapped it up. All of it. This is a thrilling novel of survival quite apart from the fascinating science behind these rather unpleasant critters and it becomes increasingly intense as the numbers of survivors dwindle one by one and the ants themselves look set on an escape to the mainland. The chaos and murder they wreak is horrifyingly chilling and lovingly described. A part of me wanted to look away but the rest of me couldn’t.

I loved the character of Hannah. She’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders, thanks to her parents, and this is dealt with brilliantly by Chuck Wendig. She has so much to fight against and she manages it even though it’s so hard. Agent Cooper has his own problems and it’s all the more telling that he has to rely on Hannah who really could do with some care herself. But despite, or because of, her problems, Hannah’s humour is something she relies upon and this is a novel full of witty, sharp dialogue. It really is such a pleasure to read.

If you read a novel about killer ants you want it to make your skin itch, your spine shudder and your pulse beat faster. Invasive achieved this perfectly. The whodunnit element is satisfyingly done and, chillingly, we go from one crisis to another, from one bloody death to another – I couldn’t turned these pages quickly enough. Fast, gory, horrific, clever, witty, disgusting, itchy – Invasive ticks all the techno thriller boxes while also managing to put me off ants quite considerably.

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