Poison Heartbeats by Temple Emmet Williams is a contemporary fiction novel about a terrorist plot that deals with real-world entities including the US Department of Homeland Security and ISIL. An introductory passage by the author lets us know that for the most part, his fictitious interpretations of these entities are accurate, although he has taken some liberties by extending the sphere of influence of the Department of Homeland Security. It becomes clear within the first few chapters that this is a book that is well-researched, and the author’s use of real-world facts compliments the ambitious adventure we are brought on. We are also told before the story begins that this book is the second in the Heartbeat series (Wrinkled Heartbeats being the first, which AI gave 4.5/5 Stars) but that they are standalone novels and can be read independently of one-another. A number of sharply-written characters cross paths throughout the narrative, and special mention needs to be made of the author’s use of space and setting. The author takes the reader on a globe-trotting tour that highlights both the differences and parallels of each environ. This is a book that paints a thrilling picture with its words, which is only slightly dampened by some odd structural choices.
Each chapter is named and comes with an image and a short statement that sets the stage for what is about to happen. In some of the chapters, these pictorial clues and scene settings help the reader visualize what is happening, but on a whole seem unnecessary for such a well-written and descriptive novel. While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if seeing the characters and environments of the story in a picture didn’t ruin my own imagining of them when they were described to me a few pages later. Some of the images and introductory clauses are also redundant. This is a minor negative in a magnificent story, and it’s hard for me to fault an author for giving the reader something extra, but this is a story that can easily rest on its own skillful story-telling, rather than on pictures. Aside from this unnecessary distraction, the book is well-structured, well-paced, and often hard to pull yourself away from.
As mentioned earlier, this is a book that deals with a number of characters and presents the reader with many different viewpoints. The book is not guilty of head-hopping, though, and while you get a number of perspectives, the author weaves them into and out of the story easily, and when things culminate in an epic final act, each storyline is satisfied in one way or another. The ending of the book is fantastic and drums up the action leading to a thrilling climax. It’s a fun journey that is at times reflective and poignant and at others gritty and tense. There is humor and romance alongside the grim depiction of modern terrorism. While, at the end, the story lines are all satisfied, not all of them come to an ultimate coda, leaving the door open for some future adventures for some of our key players. The author’s follow-up, African Heartbeats has already been announced and the Heartbeats series itself will comprise of six novels total when finished. I recommend Poison Heartbeats to fans of contemporary fiction who enjoy action, suspense, and the kind of story that could easily take place in our current political climate. 4.5/5 Stars.