Walk in the Flesh

Walk in the Flesh is a dark, twisty sci-fi thriller, set in a future where a breakthrough in nano-technology has made it possible to upload the consciousness of a military operative into the brain of anyone that British Intelligence can take off the street for two weeks – anyone from a Chinese diplomat to an Iranian teenager. Provided that Neil, the military operative in question, is able to destroy the head of his host body at the end of each mission, all evidence of his presence is erased.

Peter Bailey’s writing is particularly successful at melding the sci-fi elements with reality; the violence that Neil’s ability to push his host body past its physical limits enables is described with gritty realism, along with an almost clinical dissection of the collateral damage to Neil’s wavering grip on his sanity.

For me, the main storyline took a little while to get off the ground; the first third of the book read like a series of cameo stories of Neil’s missions, and it wasn’t until nearly halfway that the story really focussed and pulled me in. It felt almost as if the author experimented with several secondary characters to pair against Neil, and only found the perfect match on the third or fourth outing, which is the secondary character he then runs with for the rest of the book.

This secondary character is Ariana, an Iranian medical technician who isolates the traces of Neil’s presence in the brain of a body he failed to perfectly destroy. She also has the misfortune of having been born female at a time when religious fundamentalism and the accompanying gender prejudice are again sweeping the country. She appears to serve two purposes in the book; she allows the author to explore his perception of gender inequality in the Muslim culture from a female viewpoint – and she provides the perfect trigger to Neil’s final destabilisation, tripping all his conflicts about his role as a white knight versus the destructive aspect of his condition.

On the whole, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book, with plenty of action and an original premise. By far the strongest aspect for me was the analysis of Neil’s spiral into complete breakdown, but the overall story was a good read, definitely worthwhile for anyone out there who likes sci-fi or military-style thrillers.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books.

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