I tend to browse through the top 100 free books on Amazon for Kindle. Generally these are the classic books which have expired copyrights. However, recently there has been a trend for authors to offer free books, generally the first in a series, in the hope they can hook you in to buy the following books. I guess this is almost following the 'TV drug dealer business model' of offering free samples to get you addicted!
One of the first batch I downloaded was Dennis Batchelder's Soul Identity. The idea sounded intriguing. A security consultant has been recruited to help a mysterious organisation who are being attacked internally and externally. This organisation, Soul Identity, track souls as they move from one life to the next. The soul tracking is based on each person's individual iris reading. An Iris is assumed to be unique, but the organisation discovered thousands of years ago that the individual readings reappear in the future, but crucially two identical Iris's are never present at the same time. So it is on this basis that a soul trail can be established, where a member can trace their previous self, and leave things to their future self/selves, through the iris readings. This permits Soul Identity to give their future selves a start in life whether it be it financial or by passing on knowledge. However, a rival business has been set up and member's are flocking to them and taking their substantial deposits with them. With Soul Identity on the verge of bankruptcy they seek assistance from the security consultant Scott Waverly. Scott suspects an inside job and has conflicting feelings as he has personal issues with what the organisation are promising people.
This was not the type of book I would typically read but I thought it was the chance to try something new at no cost. With any new author I tend to try and judge if their material is going to be worth reading within the opening 20 or so pages. I have to say I was not initially impressed. The prologue contains awful dialogue and characters I was struggling to connect with. To be fair it becomes clearer why the characters are behaving this way but with it being a free book I almost gave up on it and moved onto the next one before the first chapter had finished. However, once you get the clunky opening out of the way the book does hook you in. With it being a secret organisation, dealing with an unusual topic, the author has to come up with complex rules which are plausible within the scene he has set. Batchelder does an excellent job in this respect. His Soul Identity organisation is appropriately complex and rigid in structure. All of the details are revealed to you through Scott Waverly conducting his investigation. This means the details are leaked in a natural way and Waverly raises a lot of questions which immediately come to the reader. In addition to the obvious questions he also poses quite a few that I didn't think of but which I may have done in the following days. This was probably the main highlight of the novel for me, the way that all aspects of the organisation stood up to scrutiny.
Having said that there are parts of the book which fail to meet the required standard. Inevitably Waverly gets a love interest. This is Val Nikolskaya, she is a programmer at Soul Identity and is a cross between a supermodel and Lara Croft. She is as ridiculous a character as Waverly and falls in love with him instantly. I assumed she was a plant as that was the only plausible (in my view) explanation. This was probably my biggest issue with the book, almost all the characters were one dimensional. Even with the knowledge that someone was working against the organisation from the inside, you never really thought there would be much of a twist as the characters were so black and white. A further weakness was the reliance on a large coincidence which held the story together. It turns out that Waverly knows someone who will become a major player in Soul Identity's future. There are only a handful of people in the world who are capable of attaining the position and it turns out the relevant candidate is right on Waverly's doorstep. This is something that often happens in fiction but I always think it is a sign of weakness. I would much rather have had this person introduced in a manner which required the organisation tracking him down using age old procedures rather than coincidence.
One of the reviews I read before I downloaded the book mentioned that it was a great concept but in the hands of the wrong author. From memory they speculated what the likes of Michael Crichton may have done with the same concept. I thought this was harsh but can now see exactly what the person was getting at. Betchelder deserves great credit for coming up with the idea but you cant help but feel that he hasn't quite delivered on the idea. Hopefully he will rectify this in the sequels.
As mentioned above the book is a free download but is also available in paperback for £6.83 on Amazon. I can recommend the book as a decent bit of escapism when it is available for free but I would be reluctant to spend much more than a couple of pounds on it. To be fair I did download the sequel which was available for a very reasonable £1.75 (now £2.23) so it is not like they are charging excessive prices for the downloads, even once they may have you hooked in. However the paperbacks are not worth the prices, especially the sequel which is an eye-watering £9.50.