Nick Cooper – Cooper to those considered friends – is called a traitor by many of his… kind: the gifted, sometimes called brilliants, abnorms, freaks and other uncomplimentary named. They’re the small percentage of people with unusual abilities. We aren’t talking superpowers here, just a little random DNA tweak that makes every one of them far, far better at one single thing than anyone else - in the world. Think about an NFL quarterback who doesn’t just know where defensive players are now, he knows where they’ll be in three seconds. Or maybe you can envision a financial wizard who knows to the microsecond and the penny the rise (or fall) of any stock on the market. Wouldn't they be a little scary?
Cooper’s particular gift is recognizing patterns. He can look you in the face and know what you're about to do; about to say. Even weirder, he can study your phone bill or credit card statement and know where you’ll be tomorrow – before you do. This talent is why he works for “Equitable Services.” It's a government agency fighting a hidden war against gifted “terrorists,” abnorms like the man called John Smith. Smith has been killing civilians for almost ten years and, for just a few weeks less, Equitable Services and Cooper have been hunting him.
The situation will soon change: desperate, Cooper drops off the grid and disappears into a vast Wyoming compound of, by, and for abnorms. His excuse is that he (accidentally?) triggered the terrorist bomb that caused the death of hundreds; so his former colleagues are on his trail – and they have orders to shoot first and ask questions later.
What Cooper finds out inside the abnorm compound is about to change everything he thought he knew…
Chicago-based Marcus Sakey steps far from his normal comfort zone in Brilliance. Previously known for several fine standalone crime novels based in the Windy City, Sakey has taken a sideways leap into series specific - and what a leap! Brilliance may well be the first time this reader was happy to find an unexpected “END OF BOOK ONE” on the novel’s last page.
The brilliance of Brillance is that, as Sakey has already shown in those crime novels, his strength is creating characters readers can easily identify with; people with whom they’d enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee or a beer. Take Cooper: he's a lot of things – a loving father, a befuddled ex-husband, a steadfast friend – attributes most of his coworkers can’t claim.
Sakey sets his novel in an alternative history: it’s set today, except in a timeline where Dukakis was elected president in 1988. His vision is a brilliant elicitation of what’s sometimes called the Butterfly Effect. Add one little twist to history, then lie back and watch your change grow like a cartoon snowball rolling downhill. What might have been a mere curiosity – a few oddly gifted children who showed up in 1986 – grew into a “war on terror” run by powerful, shadowy agency that manages the uneasy truce between the nervous public and the few who are “different.”
The central theme of Brilliance is that age-old truth: power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sakey shouldn’t be blamed for writing to that tried and true plot, since wherever there are humans there is greed –for money, for power, for both. The one question Brilliance has to ask is if Nick Cooper and his friends have the power to fight back.