Sea of Doubt: The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Jeremy D. Holden
My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes
Series: Mal Thomas Mystery Series
Date Published: October 2nd, 2016
Publisher: Clean Publishing
Pages: 252 pages
Synopsis: After leaving behind a brilliant, but emotionally exhausting career in advertising, Mal Thomas wants nothing more than to enjoy the peace and serenity of the home he and his wife share in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. That serenity is interrupted when, seemingly out of nowhere, Mal gets a call that pulls him back into his old world, and on a path to undertaking an extraordinary assignment: Alfredo Baptiste, the world’s most powerful and mysterious industrialist wants Mal to promote the alleged second coming of the Messiah.
As Mal and his team of cynical “Mad” men and women confront their own doubts about the validity of Baptiste’s seemingly ridiculous claim that his adopted son Sebastian is this new Messiah, they can’t resist the challenge, and find themselves thrust into a world of greed and revenge.
In a fast moving and often sardonic narrative that crisscrosses New York, North Carolina, Miami, and Buenos Aires, Sea of Doubt has its roots in our endless obsession with fame and pop-culture. As Mal’s team develops an unstoppable global campaign, a worldwide media feeding frenzy ensues, causing people to set aside all logic and reason, leading to tragic consequences.
Baptiste’s motivation is ultimately revealed in a twisted and unexpected ending as parallel worlds and a seismic conspiracy explode in an ending that will make you wonder how you didn’t see it coming earlier.
Sea of Doubt provides a window into human nature and media driven mass persuasion, forcing us to look at consequences of the choices we make. You will laugh out loud at the absurdity of the challenges that Mal and his team find themselves confronted with, while at the same time being forced to examine the role we all play in enabling the media to shape our thinking, and dictate our lives.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
I had some hesitations going into this novel, as I was not sure it was quite the type of story that would really interest me. The idea of looking at advertising from a psychological perspective very much piqued my curiosity—I find it fascinating to see how certain media tactics are designed to affect us all both individually and as a society. On the other side of things, I am not typically a huge fan of novels that delve too deeply into the topic of religion, and I didn’t know what to expect in that area. It’s not that I am disinterested and much more that I feel religion is a very private subject, so I hoped it would not put me off.
However, I absolutely could not have predicted how much I would end up truly enjoying this novel. The synopsis does not even begin to cover all the unique aspects of this engrossing and fast-paced narrative. And with an incredibly unexpected twist in the final chapters, even though it felt a bit rushed into the plot, I was kept on the edge of my seat all the way through.
In this novel, we follow Mal Thomas—a retired advertising agent who gets roped back in to work on his craziest assignment yet. He is called in to collaborate with his former advertising company, CREATIF, by one of the world’s most powerful men, Alfredo Baptiste. Baptiste claims that his adopted son, Sebastian, is the Messiah, and requests Mal and his former CREATIF team’s help in introducing this topic to the world. Despite his personal doubts, Mal is taken by Baptiste’s sincerity and agrees to assist him, but not all is as it seems. Some people’s true motives are not clear, and this entire process leads to shocking and devastating consequences that no one saw coming.
Following a short initial hook, the novel starts out at a bit of a slow pace as Holden introduces us to the main characters and their backstories. This could have easily made it a bit harder to get into, but I felt he did a good job of not only carefully constructing and acquainting us with the characters, but also of immediately bringing them to life. And very briefly, after the introduction of the main plot line, the speed ramps up exponentially.
We are quickly swept up into the life of Mal Thomas and his colleagues as they tackle this controversial and seemingly impossible task of convincing the world that the second coming of the Messiah is indeed happening. Figuring out the psychology of marketing something as stunning as this is going to be the biggest challenge they have ever faced. Not only do they have to contend with the resistance and backlash that is sure to come from the public, they have to wrestle with their own personal doubts and skepticism.
I really enjoyed this peek at the behind-the-scenes workings of mass media and advertising, and the planning that goes into campaigns that are effective on the public. We get to see the sort of power these images have over all of us—whether we realize it or not—as well as the underlying purposes that these promotions and movements can have. As shown here in this story, there are both good and bad intentions floating around in this aspect of society. Sometimes, these movements can spark wonderful things, bringing people together as a community. At other times however, there are darker schemes at work, many times revolving around greed.
The best part of this novel, by far, are the characters—Holden does an absolutely brilliant job of creating interesting, three-dimensional characters that carry the story to new levels. As I mentioned before, he takes a good amount of time crafting the personalities and backstories of every single person, not allowing any of them to come across as insignificant or not fully fleshed out. And Mal is the most fantastic narrator—one of my new favorites. He is humorous, intelligent, and kind-hearted, such an easy character to fall in love with. Reading from his perspective is a joy.
As for the writing itself, I found Holden’s work to be very easy to fall into, and it flowed nicely from beginning to end. His talent in every aspect of storytelling is abundantly clear, as well as his background knowledge of advertising and the persuasiveness of media. He manages to produce an entertaining and at many times hilarious narrative, while also inserting information and serious circumstances that are very relevant in today’s world.
It is a quick and extremely fun read, while also having quite a surprising amount of depth to it. The only real complaint that I had was that there was far more telling than showing, which was not a huge detriment, but definitely slowed down the pace just a bit.
Overall, I am so glad that I took the chance and decided to give this book a try—it ended up being even better than I had hoped. Though it wasn’t absolutely perfect, it was certainly a page-turner, and one of the most unique plotlines I’ve come across recently. Skillfully plotted and unraveled at a fitting pace, Mal Thomas and his quirky personality will captivate readers from page one. I enjoyed experiencing all the twists and turns this story took, as well as spending time with some of my new favorite literary characters. I’ve already gone on and read the sequel, and I am looking forward to talking about that one soon as well.