Daniel Welch’s business thriller RACE FOR THE MIND begins with a very familiar ode to the progress of humankind. As Apollo 11 hurtles to land on the moon for the first time, a Nobel-winning scientist, Dr. Darya Rostov, and her team at NASA fret about the exigencies of what might happen if a multitude of elements go awry. Relief sets in shortly for Rostov and the rest of the crew when Apollo touches down finally, but the fallout of the event reveals something is terribly amiss: Rostov’s brilliant mind has early signs of Alzheimer’s.
In another part of the world, meanwhile, a scientist believes he has begun to solve the riddle that the acute disease poses to humans but feels daunted by the task of ever bringing the potential cure, a drug with a complicated chemical matrix, to fruition on the market. The discovery inevitably triggers the interest of venture capitalists and business people, including Jack Callahan, an altruistic CEO with a knack for forming alliances in the biotech industry, and a sinister power lord in the pharmaceutical landscape, Nathaniel Shah, who bears a faint resemblance to many iconic comic book villains. Quickly sweeping past jargon-laden science, the book masterfully pivots to the intricate workings and machinations of bringing a venture capital company and BIO230, as the drug is called, to the local pharmacy.
Interlaced with this narrative is the journey of Rostov, whose genius and acuity slowly deteriorates throughout the book, making the reader wonder whether the pioneering drug inventors will beat the clock that keeps ticking on Rostov’s slowly ebbing intelligence. The impasses to getting the drug FDA approved, however, do not prove easy to surmount. As the venture company, called BioNeura, slowly and methodically takes shape amid a climate of scandal, hostility, and even sabotage, Shah takes deadly aim at the underpinnings of the new start-up through a series of efforts to undermine the company’s credibility with investors. The repeating episodes of Shah’s masquerading with a falcon, which are perhaps a metaphor for the predatory quality of some aspects of the business world, suggest a culture that supplants idealism with vice, although Shah is complicated and is sometimes probed for his own sense of inferiority for coming from a low caste in India, a fact which drives him to oppress.
These hints in the plot may incline one to believe that the RACE FOR THE MIND is anti-corporate, but it seems instead to be pointing out a certain paradigm in the biotech climate—that of a David-and-Goliath interrelationship between start-ups and more established companies, the latter of which seek to gobble up all the others with fiendish pedigree.
Revelatory in its exposure of the underbelly of the American pharmaceutical industry, RACE FOR MIND is a nuanced business thriller with elements of both personal drama and professional risk-taking in equal measure.
~MP Gunderson for IndieReader