By J. Luke Bennecke
Set in a near-future California where eco-terrorism is as common as self-driving electric cars, J. Luke Bennecke’s WATERBORNE follows engineer Jake Bendel as he plans and executes the construction of a cutting-edge water treatment plant that will provide clean drinking water for millions of people on the West coast. Jake has a history with the head of a terrorist cell, Viktor Johnston, who is wanted by the FBI; two years ago, Viktor murdered Jake’s wife, a trauma that Jake and his best friend Paige are still reeling from. Now, Viktor has returned to sabotage the engineering project, poisoning California’s water supply with a deadly virus, and attempting to frame Jake for the destructive act. As more people get sick and Jake’s life and legacy is increasingly threatened, he and Paige must work together with the FBI to find and take down Viktor before it’s too late.
The plot barrels forward at a break-neck pace, with eye-opening scientific discoveries and dynamic action driving the progression of the story. Chapter-ending cliffhangers amp up suspense alongside dramatic events, like an explosion that leaves Jake questioning whether there is a survivor and a mysterious package sent in the mail that smells like formaldehyde; readers can guess at its contents in the lead-up to its reveal, based on the palpable imagery in the writing’s detail, bolstering tension. The fast pace is gripping and the language immersive, pulling the readers into the story as deeply as Jake is into his emotionally charged investigation.
Jake’s history is compelling, and his and Paige’s present lives that they have cultivated in the wake of their respective traumas up the stakes. Both characters are sympathetic because of their background, their skills, and their caring nature, as when Jake comforts Paige during the sudden loss of her pet cat. The book’s villains, including Viktor and his henchmen, have dynamic, if conventional personalities. Dips into these antagonists’ perspectives show valid motivations that align with their misguided actions, giving the story additional emotional edge. Minor disruptions momentarily distract, as when a character takes her father telling her that she was born intersex in stride; it’s a revelation that feels convenient for the plot in that moment and affects no other part of the story. Some stereotypical language is used to describe characters’ race—as in “cinnamon-colored”—but these are minor blips in an otherwise tactful novel with a politically-charged premise. There are also occasional grammar and spelling blemishes.
The book features scientific language, including from the fields of civil engineering, genetics, and virology. Jargon is always explained in context and blends seamlessly into dialogue and exposition. While the accuracy of some of the genetic engineering discussion is suspect, its imaginative use in the near-sci-fi setting makes for inventive storytelling and a captivating plot. Jake’s engineering expertise is incorporated smoothly into the story, and he uses his knowledge and experience in innovative ways to navigate his adventure. Though it hardly seems possible with the whirlwind introduction, the book continues to ramp up the stakes until its explosive and satisfying conclusion.
With intriguing concepts and well-rounded protagonists, J. Luke Bennecke’s WATERBORNE is a high-octane page-turning thriller, elevated by fascinating scientific detail and an empathetic hero.
~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader
Black Rose Writing
By J. Luke Bennecke
Reading a story about a virus putting an entire city, and more, at risk would have sounded straight out of science fiction just three years ago. Post Covid though, J. Luke Bennecke’s WATERBORNE sounds eerily real. Layered with well-sketched characters who have interesting, interconnected back stories, this thriller is taut and satisfying to read. Although it’s the second book in a series, the author gives enough snippets from the earlier story to make this a standalone book.