Twilight author Stephenie Meyer isn’t new to adult novels — her first one was the 2008 best-seller The Host, which followed a parasite living in a woman’s brain. The Chemist, her second, is a first for Meyer in another way. The spy thriller is completely devoid of any supernatural or sci-fi elements: It’s just regular humans doing regular human things, like mixing lethal chemical cocktails and painful torture potions.
The titular chemist, an expert in both science and effective interrogation techniques, is a former U.S. government agent who goes by “Alex,” though that’s not her real name. She’s on the run from her previous employers at a dangerous and unnamed agency, who have been trying their best to eliminate her because she knows too much. But when her old boss contacts her with an offer — help us out with one last job and we’ll stop hunting her down — it seems too good to refuse. Surprise after surprise emerges as she starts digging, not least of which is Meyer’s specialty: an unexpected emotional connection with exactly the wrong guy.
It’s nice to see a heroine whose greatest asset is her brain, one who can fell brawny hitmen with tiny syringes and weaponized jewelry. But The Chemist’s premise is better than its execution, and the plot’s stakes never quite feel high enough to get your pulse going — perhaps because Alex is so good at her job that failure doesn’t really seem like an option. The romance, too, falls short of what we know Meyer is capable of: No matter your feelings about Twilight, Edward and Bella’s fraught relationship, with all its forbidden desire, is iconic. The Chemist and her quarry, not so much. Things fall in line quickly, and the obstacles are easily surmounted.
Meyer is still a skilled pace-setter, and The Chemist’s 518-pages fly by quickly and easily. But perhaps it would have taken a sprinkle of something supernatural — or a smattering of heartbreak — to feel like Meyer’s characters were really in danger.