The Extinction Agenda by Michael Laurence
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press | Release Date: August 27, 2019 | Pages: 400
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After discovering the disease-ridden corpses of a spate of illegal immigrants, FBI Special Agent James Mason find himself chasing down an unrepentantly evil adversary hellbent on the extermination of billions of human beings. Over the course of his investigation, Mason uncovers an elaborate generations-long conspiracy that has wound through history for more than a hundred years and is responsible for some of the world’s deadliest outbreaks. On the run and unsure of who he can trust, Mason vows to destroy the secret organization responsible for the deaths of so many before they can annihilate mankind.
Although The Extinction Agenda sounds like a blistering thriller in the mold of James Rollins or Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger books, Michael Laurence takes an unexpected and much welcomed approach by casting his paranoid, conspiracy-driven plot as an investigative procedural. Think The X-Files by way of Michael Connelly. It’s a nifty change of pace, but I suspect some readers will find it an unforgivable bit of bait-and-switch. However, I found it to be a refreshing switch from the usual, tried-and-true run-and-gun, non-stop action formula thrillers of this type tend to go for. Instead, The Extinction Agenda relies more on intelligently twisted machinations and a smart conspiracy that slowly unravels over the evolution of Mason’s investigation.
While it’s intelligently crafted and Laurence knows how to build up a wonderful amount of suspense and paranoia, The Extinction Agenda also relies on some notable mystery-thriller cliches. Mason grows into the beleaguered and tortured protagonist that’s oh so common to the genre, leading him to go rogue from the Bureau and defy his superior’s commands, right down to the well-worn trope of getting suspended and turning in his badge and gun. It’s the sort of scene we’ve seen in a thousand cop movies and have read in just as many cop books. Laurence then props Mason up with a few conveniences, like his best boarding school buds who have just so happened to rise to the top of their respective fields and can provide him with all the necessary intel and weaponry he needs to get the job done. While Gunnar and Ramses make for interesting allies, they also make for some easy contrivances to get the disgraced FBI agent access to all the things he’s lost alongside his badge and status. And speaking of status, Mason just so happens to come from moneyed elite — his wife’s family is Big Money in the agricultural business and his father is a potential presidential candidate on the rise. Mason and his ad hoc team all enjoy certain levels of wealth and privilege and, frankly, given today’s political climate it’s a bit difficult for me to get all that invested in a ‘rich white guy fights to save the world’ shtick.
To his credit, Laurence does try to make Mason the underdog and at times it even works thanks to the breadth and depth of the New World Order conspiracy he finds himself embroiled in. The Extinction Agenda works best when we’re learning about the various levels of corruption and evil driving global events behind the scenes and what Mason’s current investigation means for the fate of the world. A good conspiracy is elaborate and complex, operates entirely in the shadows unseen by the world at large, oftentimes with evil intent or perhaps even apocalyptic repercussions, and is chillingly plausible. Well good lord, does Laurence ever deliver on all this in spades! The wider machinations surrounding this procedural bio-thriller are scarily possible and enough to make you paranoid if you’re not already. It’s also a pretty timely thriller given its focus on kidnapping and using illegal Mexican immigrants as a source of human experimentation for science run amok. As foreign children die in American concentration camps run by private for-profit groups that have donated large amounts of money to the current administration or are cycled through state-sponsored kidnapping via government-contracted foster care services linked to members of the current administration, it’s hard to look at Laurence’s connecting of dots and not find some measure of awful plausibility in the overarching conspiracy he presents. It may be improbable, but that certainly doesn’t make it impossible, particularly in light of the current state of the world.
Ultimately, The Extinction Agenda is a rich conspiracy thriller, and although it has its fair share of action throughout its 400 pages, it largely relies more on brains than brawn to win the day.