More praise for IMPROBABLE by Adam Fawer

IMPROBABLE got big thumbs ups in this week’s Just Books newsletter and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

From Just Books:

Improbable is one of those rare books that you sink into your bed with and welcome the early morning light as you turn the final page. Improbable is a brilliantly told mystery/thriller that just keeps you guessing the odds to the very end. Fourth-year Columbia statistics Ph.D. student David Caine is in trouble. His gambling habit has gotten him in deep with the Russian mob and due to serious health issues, he can’t make himself disappear. In order to escape the burden of his debts without losing his life, Caine is under experimental drug treatment that seems to allow him to access his unconscious mind and he combines this gift with his statistical genius to play the odds in a high stakes game for his life. Fawer is gifted at keeping the finest line between the good guys and the bad guys, holding a mirror up to David Caine, so that you’re never sure which image is reality, and keeping the adrenaline flowing through succinct explanations of complicated mathematical and scientific theories. Improbable is action packed, full of interesting information and for any person with a penchant for playing the odds: the perfect read.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

It makes an unlikely combination: Thriller and physics

Reviewed by Marc Schogol

There’s a very strong probability that you’ll read this book – but it’s equally improbable.

We might be able to tell if we could look into your future, but which future?

Perhaps your past reading habits would give us a hint, but which past?

OK, you may be fuming, get real! Fine – which reality did you have in which mind?

And if you’ve got a feeling that you’ve heard this sort of stuff before, congratulations. But beware. Once it’s discovered that you experience feelings of deja vu, a lot of nasty people may come after you.

That’s what happens to David Caine, the protagonist of this very promising debut novel by Adam Fawer, who got his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to a business career before checking the odds and deciding they favored writing this combination thriller and primer on modern physics.

Caine is a gambling addict and epileptic. So was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who wrote a novella called The Gambler about a man who couldn’t stay away from the gaming tables.

It isn’t improbable that Ivy Leaguer Fawer has read that book, but his book leaves Dostoyevsky’s (whose name is sometimes also spelled “Dostoevsky”) in some parallel universe’s dust.

For all his anguished musing on morals, Dostoyevsky probably believed the books he wrote physically existed. Ha!

The premise of Improbable is that everything from existence to matter doesn’t matter because it’s all relative – except when it isn’t.

There are people among us who can see all possible pasts, presents and futures, Fawer hypothesizes – and epilepsy, schizophrenia and similar conditions are telltale symptoms of those who have this potential ability.

When David Caine comes to realize this – and also falls deeply and hopelessly into gambling debt – mad doctors, spies, and mobsters from all over the world literally and figuratively want a piece of him, and don’t care whether he’s alive or dead when they get it.

In an unlikely alliance, he is aided in his flight by a beautiful (are there any other kind?) former Russian KGB agent turned CIA hit-woman turned freelance intelligence thief and hawker who messes up and – after initially chasing Caine, too – is being chased by the same crowd.

Time after time (Einstein’s definition of time, of course), she and Caine seemingly miraculously (but not really miraculously, because there’s an explanation for everything) escape pursuers. In the course of which, Caine increasingly comes into his mental strengths.

Also in the course of which, alas, the narrative takes long digressions as we get long, detailed lessons on Probability Theory, Quantum Physics, and other cutting-edge scientific theories and theorems on being and nothingness.

Sometimes, these tutorials come only seconds (relatively speaking) before the bad guys kick down the door. It can make some readers a tad impatient – and at one point, even one of the characters urges another delivering a lecture to please you-know-what or get off the pot.

Caine, too, can freeze up – knowing everything except his next move.

“Caine was paralyzed, unsure of what to do,” Fawer writes of one such episode. “He knew he’d changed something, if he went back in, he would know what had happened/is happening/will happen… .”

Though Caine obviously has a huge advantage on us, we have one on him: Read Improbable and, with a lot less physical and psychological pain and strain, you’ll know all the answers, too.


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