Stephenie Meyer dedicates her new book, “The Chemist,” to Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross, the fictional heroes of Robert Ludlum’s espionage thrillers.
That pretty much sums up the mission of the novel, her first mystery and second adult project after her sci-fi debut, 2008’s “The Host.’’ Meyer, best known as the writer who gave us the young-adult “Twilight’’ novels, wanted to create her own Bourne. She wanted to put her spin on a narrative that usually follows a man on the run.
“The Chemist” follows this formula, but instead of Mr. Bourne we have the methodical Chris Taylor, who will later go by many other names, all of which are gender neutral, all the better to evade the government types who are trying to find and kill her.
Why do those people want her dead? It’s complicated and involves big conspiracies. All we need to know up front is that there are bad guys who seem like good guys, and they’re out to get our heroine, an expert scientist, who somehow got involved with the corruption she’s now trying to escape and who knows too much.
Our heroine is very good at staying alive. She’s also quite good at booby-trapping her temporary housing (she has to move a lot), and Meyer wants to tell you all about it. The author spends paragraph after paragraph detailing Chris’s system of keeping herself safe and untraceable. It’s such an exhaustive list that after a page or two, it felt like parody.
“Then the Ziploc bags full of Halloween costume blood were stuffed into the pillowcases,” Meyer writes of one of the many steps in Chris’s bedtime ritual, this one to set up a decoy. “[C]lose up, the blood wasn’t very convincing, but the Ziplocs were for an attacker who broke the window, pushed the blinds aside, and shot from that vantage point.”
It doesn’t stop there. Chris sleeps in a gas mask every night. In the bathtub. “With an unopened chemical-absorption canister tucked into her bra strap . . . ”
This is a Meyer book, though, so even though she’s committed to the bit — and to proving that she did the research (there’s a lot of molecular biology talk) — this book is a romance, and love is all that matters. She swaps Edward Cullen of “Twilight” for Daniel Beach, whom Alex kidnaps but discovers is an innocent man.
Not only is Daniel innocent, he is super dreamy. He’s a teacher who coaches the girls’ volleyball team (swoon for the man who supports Title IX). He just wants to make her a nice dinner. His hair is wavy, and he likes to cuddle.
Our heroine is oblivious to Daniel’s adoration, but we aren’t. We’re waiting for the kiss. We’re leaning in.
“He took another step forward, backing her against the island. He put his hands on the edge of the counter behind her, one on either side, and as he leaned forward, she could still smell the clean citrusy scent of his hair.”
Again, this is Meyer, who deprived us of an all-the-way sex scene in “Twilight,” so instead of any description of doing it, we skip to the part where the characters are in bed later.
Understand that despite all of this, fans will likely tear through this, just as they did with the “Twilight” novels and with “The Host” — which features two souls (one of whom is an alien) fighting over the same body.
Meyer is more concerned with storytelling than writing. In “The Chemist,” she starts a sentence with the word “actually” as if that’s OK. Minor characters are two-dimensional, more like in big-budget movies. Somehow she buys into her tales so much that you do too. It doesn’t matter that she uses the same adjectives over and over to describe perfect Daniel and his wavy hair, just as she did with Edward’s “golden eyes.”
Also, there’s something about Meyer’s books that satisfy a need. Even though “Twilight” was a young adult book with a teen narrator, many adult women wound up falling for the story. Maybe, as a twenty- or thirty- or even forty-something, it was nice to read about a guy — a centenarian vampire in the body of a young man — who was finally ready to commit.
“The Chemist” didn’t hook me as hard, but it did hit on an appealing theme. Chris is an expert in her field, one that happens to be male dominated. Her peers are out to get her. She has to watch her back constantly.
I’m no Chris, but I get it. With so many popular novels out there featuring unreliable female narrators stuck in various suburbs, it was nice to read about a woman who gets out and has a lot to do.
It’s not the Great American Novel, but it is Meyer. After more than 500 pages, I finished “The Chemist” and flipped through some of the scenes a second time, wondering who will play Daniel in the movie.
By Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown, 521 pp., $28
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.