Book review: The Assistant by SK Tremayne

Tuesday, December 3, 2019 Permalink

I read and enjoyed The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne in 2015. I know the English author and journalist (Sean Thomas) has released a couple of books since but haven’t heard a lot about them here in Australia, though I know The Fire Child in particular, was well-received by overseas authors and bloggers I follow.

Tremayne’s latest release is very timely in the age of Siri and Alexa, Google Home and automation in general. It takes things a little further however (well, I’ve not heard of some of the technology so it ‘may’ exist!) and things turn ugly. Of course the big question is whether it’s artificial intelligence (AI) and ‘the machines’ taking over or if humans are still the main source of evil.

Book review: The Assistant by SK TremayneThe Assistant
by S.K. Tremayne
Published by Harper Collins
on 29/11/2019
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 0008309515, 9780008309534
Pages: 400

Newly divorced Jo is delighted to move into her best friend’s spare room almost rent-free. The high-tech luxury Camden flat is managed by a meticulous Home Assistant, called Electra, that takes care of the heating, the lights – and sometimes Jo even turns to her for company.

Until, late one night, Electra says one sentence that rips Jo’s fragile world in two: ‘I know what you did.’ And Jo is horrified. Because in her past she did do something terrible. Something unforgivable.

Only two other people in the whole world know Jo’s secret. And they would never tell anyone. Would they? As a fierce winter brings London to a standstill, Jo begins to understand that the Assistant on the shelf doesn’t just want to control Jo; it wants to destroy her.

Jo has had a run of bad luck, with a marriage breakup and (when we meet her) is trying to get back on her feet.

She’s lucky to have reconnected with an old college friend however – one who’s well-heeled with a wealthy fiance, so rarely at home.

Tabitha’s house is overloaded with tech. Jo simply has to ask Electra to do something and it’ll happen. Until the day the ‘Home Assistant’ talks back. And knows things about Jo’s past it shouldn’t.

Jo’s father had schizophrenia and she worries that speaking about what’s happening puts her at risk of sounding paranoid herself; so she delays it. Until emails are being sent on her behalf and all sorts of stuff is hitting the fan.

It’s an interesting scenario. I’m conscious computers (AI) are / is capable of learning. Of extrapolating from information received. The director of the company I’m doing contract work with has recently spoken at conferences about the ‘personalisation’ of data and information collected, and this a reminder that computers (and those who write their programs or own the company) can trawl through our lives for information.

But… of course here readers are forced to consider whether a computer program is able to intentionally victimise someone; or if we’re talking about human intervention. About a living and breathing being? And in Jo’s case we (she) realise it would be someone setting out to ruin her life. Someone with a grudge.

There are a number of suspects and, though she initially appreciates the low-human maintenance household, Jo becomes concerned with the level of control / access others have to the house and the actions and movements of those within it.

This well-paced psychological thriller serves as a timely reminder of the technology we allow into our lives, sometimes with minimal thought to its implications or repercussions. I have an iPhone complete with Siri but I’ve actually only used it accidentally when I’ve pushed the home button for too long.

I’ve not got any ‘home assistants’, though as someone who lives alone I kinda like the idea of issuing instructions to an obedient being. Or anyone at all really.

This is another enjoyable and thought-provoking read from Tremayne.

The Assistant by SK Tremayne will be published in Australia by Harper Collins and available from late November 2019.

I received an electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 


Comments are closed.