Note: Even though this is Book 7 in the series, it works totally fine as a stand alone.
Zack Berg is a gifted wonder boy and his parents Denise and Gabe are very proud of that fact. They do the best they can support their son in finding activities and a school curriculum that will challenge him. Zack’s abilities and his Basque heritage (through his mother Denise) attract Dr. Jorge Maneo to his case. Dr. Maneo has a long-standing hatred of the Spanish government due to a life time of fighting for Basque independence. As Zack starts to explore his Basque heritage, he gets in deeper than he expected.
Set in California, this tale was an interesting mix of medical thriller and political thriller. Starting off with a small snapshot of someone switching sperm samples at some laboratory, the story then jumps ahead a few years, showing another little snapshot, and then again and again until we get to a young Zack starting to blossom into his abilities. It’s no secret that his parents had to go to a fertility clinic for in vitro fertilization, so you know from the start that the sperm sample switch will be important later.
The Maneos have a tortured family past. Alberto went into the priesthood while Jorge was encouraged again and again to attend school and then university. They were raised, for the most part, in Basque Country and fought in their own ways for Basque independence. However one family member after another is killed, usually in some brutal manner. Jorge early on sympathized with the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), a paramilitary Basque separatist group. Subsequently, the FBI has kept tabs on him since he entered the country.
While we are getting that background on the Maneos, Zack ages again and we rejoin him in his teen years. Of course, he’s super smart but he’s also got physical skills beyond those expected for his age. Also, his ability to show compassion is beyond what most adult humans are capable of. Yep, he’s a braniac jock with a heart of gold. At first, this combination was intriguing, but once Zack’s personality is established, his actions and reactions are all rather predictable. I became a little bored with him, but by that time I was caught up in his tale.
Throughout the story, there are these little snippets about Neanderthals. At first, I didn’t really see where this was going but I wanted to find out. Various theories about Neanderthals, including their possible culture and what became of them, are brought up by different characters. I won’t go into details because that would be spoilery. However, as the plot thickens, I found myself way more interested in this than in the ETA. So I wish the author had spent a bit more time on it, and tossed in some more science (I can take it!).
The ending was rather anticlimactic. It was easy to tell early on what the significance of the opening scene of the sperm sample switch was. There’s this action sequence that involves Jorge Maneo and then a bunch of cleanup. Given what we know of Zack’s personality, the ending concerning that plot line was predictable. At the very end, there is a reveal about Jorge Maneo and that again was easy to see coming. So, while I enjoyed the ride, it held only that one little tiny Neanderthal bit for me in terms of surprises.
I received a copy at no cost from the narrator (via the Facebook Audiobook Addicts group) in exchange for an honest review.
The Narration: Joe Hempel’s accents (Spanish, Basque, Austrian) started off a little rough but smoothed out pretty quickly. His female character voices were believable. However, towards the end of the story, the character voices were not as distinct as they were at the beginning.