- A mystery solved by the first class of MIT looked like it might just be interesting.
Summary from GoodReads:
Boston, 1868. The Civil War may be over but a new war has begun, one between the past and the present, tradition and technology. On a former marshy wasteland, the daring Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rising, its mission to harness science for the benefit of all and to open the doors of opportunity to everyone of merit. But in Boston Harbor a fiery cataclysm throws commerce into chaos, as ships’ instruments spin inexplicably out of control. Soon after, another mysterious catastrophe devastates the heart of the city. Is it sabotage by scientific means or Nature revolting against man’s attempt to control it?
The shocking disasters cast a pall over M.I.T. and provoke assaults from all sides—rival Harvard, labor unions, and a sensationalistic press. With their first graduation and the very survival of their groundbreaking college now in doubt, a band of the Institute’s best and brightest students secretly come together to save innocent lives and track down the truth, armed with ingenuity and their unique scientific training.
Led by “charity scholar” Marcus Mansfield, a quiet Civil War veteran and one-time machinist struggling to find his footing in rarefied Boston society, the group is rounded out by irrepressible Robert Richards, the bluest of Beacon Hill bluebloods; Edwin Hoyt, class genius; and brilliant freshman Ellen Swallow, the Institute’s lone, ostracized female student. Working against their small secret society, from within and without, are the arrayed forces of a stratified culture determined to resist change at all costs and a dark mastermind bent on the utter destruction of the city.
Frankly, if it wasn’t for one nagging thing, I’d give The Technologists by Matthew Pearl a full-on five star review. It was (nearly) everything I look for in a mystery/suspense book – fascinating, documented historical happenings, lively characters, strange and unusual events, unsympathetic treatment of the “bad guy,” twists and turns, and a push against the stereotypical treatment of women of the times.
So what is that one nagging thing keeping me back from full-on ranting and raving? Well – it’s a simple thing really…
The story took forever to gain momentum. Seriously, 150 pages in and I was wondering when something, anything, was going to start to pull together. I understand that a good mystery needs a solid foundation, for all the bare bones to be put together in a way that will make for an explosive ending, but I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on until the Technologists club was formed.
Now, once that club was formed things began to make sense. Marcus Mansfield was a fantastic lead character. He had a sympathetic background story, set in the Civil War (which makes it doubly interesting). He wasn’t a “rich boy,” rather a guy that was making it on his own. He was inquisitive, insightful, and an all around great character.
Hammie, the clueless rich kid was also great – I never knew where I, as the reader, was supposed to stand with regard to his placement in the group until the end of the story. Bob Richards showed remarkable growth in character, Edwin Hoyt fulfilled his role perfectly, and then there was Ellen Swallow.
Oh people, how I loved this character. A chemist, Ellen Swallow attends MIT in the company of a school filled with men, and she keeps to her own for very good reasons. However, she might just be the smartest one in the group and how I loved the wit and wisdom she brought to the group.
I do recommend this one, but understand that good things take time to mature. The end result is worthwhile (it surprised me, I didn’t see it coming!), and most of all, the afterward by the author about the history of MIT is worth the read in and of itself.
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