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Geneva by Richard Armitage

24/11/2023
Geneva by Richard Armitage

With the rise of audiobooks has also come the rise of books written for audio. These are not audio dramas as such (although some, like this one, have multiple narrators) but they are books written specifically for audio. New Zealand author JP Pomare has done a few of these including Tell Me Lies. The interesting thing then is what happens when those narratives jump to print. This is the journey of English actor Richard Armitage’s first novel Geneva. The original audiobook was narrated by Armitage and fellow thespians Nicola Walker and Jane Perry. Geneva is a thriller, and it is possible the original narration may well have kept listeners on edge. The print version unfortunately does not.

Geneva centres around power couple Sarah and Daniel. Sarah is a Nobel Prize winning scientist, winning the prestigious award for her work on Ebola. Since that win she has stepped back to focus on her family, including her ageing father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her husband Daniel is a successful neurologist, and when the book opens he is helping run tests on Sarah who has been not feeling herself. Despite her wobbliness, Daniel wants Sarah to accept an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a biotech conference in Geneva. The conference is to launch a revolutionary but controversial new treatment for neurological conditions that involves putting technology directly into patients’ brains and for which the makers are seeking Sarah’s endorsement. Sarah eventually agrees to attend, but when the pair arrive at the renowned Schiller institute the situation is not quite as Sarah expected and soon is out of control.

One of the keys to a good technothriller is the capacity to suspend disbelief. The idea needs to be plausible enough to be true so that pressure around that idea can be built. Geneva starts with a fundamental problem – explaining how a scientist of Sarah’s calibre could be asked to endorse a medical product that is completely outside of her field of research and then why she would agree to do that without seeing any of the test results or data about how the thing actually works. This is the just the start of the issues with Geneva which is riddled with plot holes, unbelievable (but unfortunately predictable) twists and muddled character motivations. Right up to the too-contrived-to-be-true finale which seems to involve the authorities just backing off and letting a form of vigilante justice take its course.

A story like this may well still work in audio, despite these flaws, if it is narrated by actors like Armitage and Walker in a way that grabs a listener’s attention. Great thriller movies are full of such contrivances, but are usually propulsive enough for those elements not to matter. But on the page, the whole enterprise falls flat. Readers have too much time to think about what is not working. And there is plenty here that does not work. Geneva has plenty of the elements of a good thriller and Armitage clearly has talent in this regard but a much earlier edit which ran even the most rudimentary logic ruler over the plot would have helped immensely.

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Geneva by Richard Armitage

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Geneva by Richard Armitage

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