As the digital world gets closer and closer to approximating a human brain, this mind-bending novel by Max Barry (Syrup; Jennifer Government) imagines the workings of the human mind as a sort of machine itself--a machine that can be sabotaged by a carefully chosen word, lobbed like a sabot into its gears. Funny, fast-paced and remarkably unmuddled for this type of reality-warping story, Lexicon is an action novel that nicely exercises the brain as well as the heart rate.

Emily is living as a street hustler in San Francisco when she is discovered by "the poets," a secret society that invites her to attend its exclusive boarding school. There, after years of training, she becomes a master of the poets' method of persuasion through a perfectly calibrated collection of syllables to disable their victims' thought processes. Obviously, sinister work is afoot among the poets and, in a whirl of global manhunts, recovered memories, car chases, epic battles--and one mysterious town in the Australian Outback full of corpses--the true nature of their plans comes to light.

With hints of Scientology's cultish approach to higher thinking and a whiff of apocalyptic frenzy, Lexicon takes its clever premise and races through all the delectable stations of sustained suspense. By the final, body-filled showdown, Barry's chilly yet entertaining vision of free will rendered inert by sounds has turned every adage about actions and words on its head. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

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