“People don’t change. They reveal themselves.”

That quote surfaced twice for me recently. The first was in The Second Son (Rare Bird Books) by Martin Jay Weiss, In this technological thriller, the CFO of a Silicon Valley startup, whose product is designed to stalk people, says it to one of the co-founders, Ethan.

Young entrepreneurs Ethan and his twin brother Jack have built the Stalker app with high hopes of financial success. But in the book’s opening moments, Jack bails to join the company’s biggest competitor and Ethan’s girlfriend Brooke also flees. Kindly counseling Ethan, this CFO tries to help him understand the sudden breaks and apparent rejections from his twin brother and his girlfriend, whom he thought he knew.

The other time I heard it was when, for a BookTrib author profile, we asked Weiss to provide us with his words to live by. “Characters don’t change. They reveal themselves,” he told us.

Consider the irony. Weiss’ thriller revolves around a product called Stalker, the ultimate transparency app that uses advanced search technology to track down anybody’s whereabouts — making stalking easy, accessible and affordable. It is used, of course, when the “stalkees” don’t reveal themselves on their own. “To help people find resolve in their past, so they can find their future,” says Ethan. That’s an elegant way to say you can find out if your spouse is cheating on you.

Ethan was determined, writes Weiss, to make Stalker “a beacon of truth that could prevent deceptions and explain betrayals; the go-to site for anyone who has been bamboozled, double-crossed or inexplicably dumped. He believed wholeheartedly that the truth would set them free.”

The plot is fast-paced and entertaining, but the product sets up everything, opening a world of story paths and possibilities.

Just in case people don’t “reveal themselves,” Stalker will do it for them – or to them.

Ethan’s own situation leaves him with haunting suspicions. The timing of both the betrayals of his brother and girlfriend matched exactly. Coincidence? Did the two run off together?

There’s one way to find out.

Ethan turns to the product he invented for just such a purpose, trying to trace the movements and motivations of the two people he held closest. Though clouded with doubts, Ethan maintains his faith in people and trusts his instincts that their acts are reasonably explainable. And as much as he’d like to hold to those instincts, Ethan needs to apply his own technology to know for sure.

This sets off a storyline full of secrets and surprises, with Ethan constantly reevaluating and reassessing what he learns, what he hears from friends and colleagues and incorporating his own feelings.

As Ethan questions the series of events that led to the sudden and simultaneous departures of Jack and Brooke, he frequently looks back at discussions and incidents that happened in the past that might provide clues, seeing them now in a different context. Through all of this, he gropes for answers as to whether he and Brooke were truly in love. During one such soul-searching moment, Jack offers to Ethan the philosophy, “Imagination is responsible for love, not the other person.”

Weiss interjects an interesting venue in the mix: Dancing Rabbit, a secluded resort where corporations hold executive retreats to help employees discover mindfulness and put them in a place where harmony and hard work will ensue. Ethan and Jack had brought their company to Dancing Rabbit for such an event; in fact, that’s where Ethan met Brooke, who was a facilitator at the complex.

One of the rules at Dancing Rabbit is that people do not share their past – privacy is respected, in fact mandated. On the surface, it appears as a safe haven. This carries over for Brooke in her relationship with Ethan. Very little of her past is revealed – by design. It is her nature to focus solely on the present, she says. This becomes paramount when she suddenly leaves Ethan, bringing up questions of who she really is and what her past, if discovered, might uncover.

In a recent interview with The Big Thrill magazine, Weiss says, “I hope this book makes people think about how technology can infringe on our privacy, how transparency affects our behavior, and how cultural evolution, for better and for worse, changes us all.”

Almost every domestic thriller,” Weiss continues, “begs the question: how well do we really know the people closest to us? The Second Son answers with a portrayal of the most similar people in the world – identical twins….As the story unfolds, we see how truly different the brothers are.”

Weiss, whose second book, Flamingo Coast, is publishing in January, concludes, “Ethan has a steadfast belief in the people he loves, which guides every decision he makes when his life turns upside down….His unyielding faith wasn’t always justified, but it’s the reason he survives and thrives. That resonated with me. I hadn’t realized how much I depend on blind faith in my own life, and in my writing.”

The Second Son provides a thought-provoking premise and a fast-moving plot, engaging readers to flip page after page for the next reveal. But more than the story, this book makes us ponder to the greatest extreme the effect of technology and a world with no secrets, in which our smallest white lies are there for the taking. Ask yourself whether this is a society you’d sign up for – or sign out from.

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The Second Son is now available to purchase.


Martin Jay Weiss is an award-winning filmmaker who has written, directed and produced a vast anthology of commercials, films, and television projects. He has a BS in Journalism from the University of Illinois and an MFA in Film from New York University. Born and raised in Chicago, he now lives in California with his wife and two children. His next novel, Flamingo Coast, is forthcoming from Rare Bird Books in 2019. Visit https://martinjayweiss.com.