Max Barry’s Lexicon gets 3.5 stars for its ideas and suspense. In this work of speculative fiction with dystopian overtones, Barry demonstrates literary flair with descriptions and – usually – a strong command of pacing. Though the stories are quite different in content and structurally, Barry seems to be aspiring to something like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose in which a thriller is coupled with concepts from semiotics. Lexicon also has features in common with Dan Brown’s books including secret societies, codes and symbols.
Lexicon is usually gripping, but periodically there are too many guns and not enough imagination as the plot slows with lengthy chases. Indeed, the novel is one long chase with characters after each other, after self-discovery, after a mysterious word with lethal power (the MacGuffin in this story). There are also vivid descriptions of Australia, but, as with the chases, brevity would amplify the intensity of Lexicon. This is a 400 page novel striving to be 300 pages. Further, some of the characters seem a trifle flat with motivation driven by plot rather than being organic to the character.
Being an author of speculative fiction myself, reading this novel encourages one to be ambitious about blending imaginative thematic content with a propulsive narrative. Generally, Lexicon does a good job of this.