Upgrade is Blake Crouch’s latest thriller and it focuses on using genetics for good or evil. Main character Logan Ramsay experiences both in the course of the story. As the son of a famous geneticist, he was a tangential part of an apocalyptic genetic failure. As a result, the world changes considerably. Still, Crouch’s fiction time period is identifiably close to our own.

Nevertheless, climate change and this genetic disaster cause governmental and social changes, as well as changes in food availability. As a member of the Genetic Protection Agency (GPA), Ramsay’s job is keeping anyone from making more changes to the DNA of living organisms. Functioning much like our current day DEA or ATF, the GPA searches for criminally inclined scientists and takes them and their work into custody.

One night, a rogue geneticist gives Ramsay’s team a tip about a lab’s location. When they raid the lab, Ramsay is gravely injured. Surprisingly, he recovers, which alerts the GPA’s suspicions. But no one worries as much as Ramsay, because he realizes the attack changed his very nature—his DNA. He must figure out why and evade capture by his own employers.

My conclusions

Upgrade is heavy on science and the perfect read for a genetics nerd like me. 2022 is my year of genetic topics, primarily because of my interest in genealogy. Modifying DNA, more or less on the fly, is a scary and topical thriller plot line. Still, prepare yourself for extended sequences that read like an Intro to Genetics course.

On the other hand, Crouch creates a likable and flawed hero with Logan Ramsay. He’s suitably shocked at his circumstances rather than excited about the genetic changes. As a result, Crouch introduces the necessary ethical and philosophical questions. Ramsay’s worries certainly make the plot more realistic. But make no mistake, the imagination behind how Ramsay copes is considerable.

Dark Matter introduced me to Crouch’s writing, back in 2016. I picked it up on Friday evening and accomplished nothing but reading all weekend. So, every subsequent book from this author must measure up to that experience. This time, especially in the last 50 pages of Upgrade, every time I had a spare minute, I grabbed a few more paragraphs.

So, if you like compulsively readable thrillers with plenty of science details, then make Upgrade your next book.

My pairing recommendation for Upgrade is unexpected. I read it alongside Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, which has a similar theme (genetics) and a completely unique execution. 


Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group—Ballantine Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. Upgrade debuts on July 12, 2022.