The String // by Caleb Breakey

A sociopath known to his victims as the Conductor is blackmailing various individuals into doing his bidding.  He calls his victims knots in his string.  As the Conductor says to one of his knots-

Think of the string as one long sheet of music, with notes of all shapes and sizes, tones, and pitches.  You’re a note … am your conductor … I lift my baton and the string goes up.  I dip it, the string goes low  …  So here are the rules of the string  …  Rule one: Each person gets a positive and negative reason to play their part … the negative: Don’t do what I say, and something horrible is going to happen to you.  …  Rule two: dictator decision … but I’m not the dictator.  You are.  You have the power to destroy not only your own life but the lives of every knot in the string.  Reminds me of my first solo.  I played and sang with all my heart, see, and brought down the house in beautiful fashion.  Everyone succeeded because I succeeded  … Oh, but if I had frozen… if I had failed… if I had so much as kissed off one note, every last person on stage would have suffered.  We’d have turned beauty into a mockery.

I’ve struggled to write this review because I’ve struggled a bit to summarize the story.  Basically the Conductor finds his victims and somehow manages to access their cell phone numbers/email/etc. and is able to send them messages, showing them how much he knows about their lives and their loved ones.  He tells them that they must do what he tells them, and that if they do, they will earn a reward (such as a promotion), but if they don’t, they will be severely punished (threats to loved ones), and that everyone else in the string will also be punished – which means the other members of the string will also be out to get whichever “knot” didn’t obey.  He then has his knots doing seemingly random tasks that are all, theoretically, building towards some sort of climax.  One knot is sent out to take photographs of people.  Another knot works for the college and has access to various sensitive records.  One knot is sent to deliver a package.  Etc. etc. etc. None of the knots technically know who any of the others are, unless one of them disobeys and the Conductor sics them on the rebel.

//published 2019//

The story’s main focus is one of the Conductor’s latest knots – Markus Haas, who works as a campus cop at the college where all of the events are centered.  Markus is a pretty regular guy, trying to do his job and live his life, dating a single mom of two.  Despite the threats the Conductor makes towards Markus’s girlfriend and her daughters, Markus is determined to fight back against the Conductor.  He finds a few other knots who are also trying to break free, and they begin to work together to unravel the string.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and it kept me turning the pages, but it went just a little too far for me to find it plausible.  I was left with too many questions at the end about the viability of the Conductor and his power.  How exactly was the Conductor able to find out so much information on so many people? – because it turns out that like a jillion people are entangled in his string, which was part of what felt a bit ridiculous.  From the beginning, it’s obvious that the Conductor is using people’s cell phones to track them – so why don’t the people who are fighting against him, I don’t know, stop at Walmart and get some new phones???  But I was especially confused by the grand finale – in the end, the Conductor’s motivation didn’t match up with the elaborate setup.

The story was told partially in Markus’s first person narration, and partially in third person of different perspectives.  This was another reason that the story didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to – I think it would have worked much better if the entire story was third person.

For me, this was a 3.5* read.  I definitely enjoyed it and wanted to see where everything was going, but I spent a little too much time feeling skeptical to become fully immersed in the story.

NB: This book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher, Revell, in exchange for an unbiased review.  Thank you!