This is the fifth (and so far, last) novel by astronomer Bill Napier, the others all having been reviewed here earlier (see review list on the left for links). It emerged in 2009, six years after the previous one (Shattered Icon). The story begins in the present day with some mysterious deaths in a remote part of the USA, apparently the result of biowarfare. Evidence at the scene suggests that the perpetrators were inspired by Nazi ideology – or could this be the result of a secret weapon programme from World War 2? A letter which appears to come from the same people is received in London, threatening dire consequences for the city. Enter Lewis Sharp, an expert on WW2 weapons technology with particular reference to secret Nazi projects, who becomes involved in a race to discover what is really going on. He faces battles with disbelievers on his own side as well as threats from the mysterious terrorists while he is trying to solve the puzzle.
The plot is complex, alternating between the present day and WW2 and featuring assorted villains with rather different agendas. As a result the story is at first confusing and it's easy to lose track of who's who. By far the strongest and most convincing scenes – and those with the best characterisation – are set in WW2, with the grim conditions in late-war Germany forming a well-realised backdrop. This part of the book focuses on Max Krafft, a Waffen SS officer and engineer who is despatched to a remote site in Bavaria to assist with the design and development of a weapon intended to end the war. His tussles with Hess (not that one!), in command of the project, his battle with his own conscience over the work he is doing and his growing relationship with mathematician Daniela are well drawn. Interestingly, Krafft's side of the story is told in the first person (for reasons which become evident towards the end of the book), while Sharp's scenes are in the third person. That might in part account for the greater impact of the German scenes, but for whatever reason the present-day characters (good and evil) and events are much less memorable.
The Furies is longer than Napier's previous novels, giving more space to develop the characters and introduce plot complexity. The downside is that the pacing is initially relatively slow so it isn't an immediate page-turner, but in the second half the pace accelerates as the mystery is gradually solved. As usual, the author's science background comes through in the descriptions of the technical problems faced by the German team and how they were tackled. I hope that this isn't the last novel from Bill Napier, his books are always worth reading.