13 April 2024

Elixir by Phil Cleary 

Elixir by author and celebrated entrepreneur Phil Cleary is a blistering thriller that reframes mankind’s dream for immortality into a global threat greater than AI. 

It’s not often you come across a political thriller that combines a gripping high-concept, action-packed plot with a genuinely thought-provoking premise, but new novel Elixir by Phil Cleary is one such book. 

This prescient page-turner takes the real-world field of life-extension research—which continues to grow apace in Silicon Valley and beyond thanks to the backing of tech billionaires such as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos—and ask, what might happen should the elixir of life finally be discovered. 

To the mind of protagonist Tom Shaw, the mild-mannered CEO of struggling pharmaceuticals company Pure Industries, it will thrust the business into the stratosphere while simultaneously ushering in a new golden era for humanity. Everyone will be a winner save the Grim Reaper. 

That he’s able to think so big is all thanks to his brilliant chief scientist, the dedicated and determined Dr Rachael Leo, who quite by chance, following a lab accident, has uncovered the philosopher’s stone while developing performance-enhancing medication for the US military. 

A daily application of the treatment, dubbed Elixir, inhibits the degradation of the body’s cells to such a degree that the human lifespan could increase to as much as 400 years, barring mishaps or misfortunes. 

As she says to her boss, “‘It’s the holy grail. It is what every researcher in this field has been looking for.” 

It is fortuitous that Dr Leo is the one to find the mixture, for she’s as ethical as intelligent. Well aware of how easily Elixir could be abused if allowed to fall into the wrong hands, she makes Shaw and the rest of the Pure Industries board swear to make it available to all. 

And, to be on the safe side, she refuses to divulge the full formula to the board, imparting only a part of the process to each of the four members and overseeing the production personally. 

Shaw is happy to agree to these terms, especially since he thinks that Elixir could be the answer to his prayers. His beloved wife is dying of advanced muscular dystrophy and while the treatment won’t fix that, it will buy decades of extra time for a cure to be found. 

And despite being a man of integrity, he ensures this outcome by secretly giving the medicine to his stricken wife, justifying his actions as being done for the sake of their 10-year-old son.  

Elixir is a visionary thriller that reveals the dream of life extension to be humanity’s greatest nightmare.

Even here, with Elixir known only to a few, conflicts of interest and moral transgressions are already appearing. Things will only get worse as word spreads about the new wonder drug,  

Despite the best efforts of Pure Industries to keep it secret until being ready to launch, a traitor in their midst leaks the news to Theodore Croft, a super-rich former hedge-fund manager without a shred of decency. Profit is all that matters to him and he is a man for whom the torture and murder of others only make him feel that more alive.  

And because Croft’s cronies are being monitored by the intelligence agencies, the intel gets back to the White House, where the president’s initial delight in the discovery is replaced by grave concern when the long-term implications are explained to him by advisors, neatly set out by the sharing of another cautionary tale concerning the origins of chess: 

“Bear with me, Mr. President.” She replaced her glasses. “The story goes that the emperor of India was so pleased with the game, he offered the inventor anything he wanted. The inventor asked for rice. He said he would like one grain of rice for the first square on the chessboard; double that for the second square; double that for the third, and so on for all the squares on the chessboard. The emperor thought he’d got away lightly. He didn’t realize that by the time he got to the sixty-fourth square, he had to give the inventor more rice than had ever been grown in the history of the world. He wasn’t a mathematician. He didn’t understand what happens when a quantity increases exponentially.” 

These competing groups each then launch their own bids to get hold of the ingredients of Elixir, either by hook or by crooks, and the key players at Pure Industries are the targets firmly in their sights. 

What began as the golden promise of longer life for all will, ironically, quickly descend into the gruesome death of many. The holy grail of medicine is, it seems, a most bitter pill to swallow. 

Elixir by Phil Cleary is, simply put, an unmissable read, bringing the spectacle into speculative fiction with an explosive storyline that has it all: tension, suspense, curveballs, and bombshells. 

All the main characters are fleshed out so we can understand and accept their motives and actions, with nothing ever feeling forced or excess to requirements. In fact, the storyline is so well constructed and logical that it consistently clicks together with the immense satisfaction of a Newton’s cradle. 

You may never have considered life extension to be anything but beneficial but here it is shown time and again how human failings—our greed, selfishness, and ruthless ambition—can swiftly taint even the purest tincture.  

And that’s not even considering the major implications of such a revolution in healthcare. Having thoroughly researched his book and the real-world science underpinning it, Cleary underlines just how dangerous it could be to the world, akin and perhaps surpassing the threat of artificial intelligence.  

It reveals the huge global social upheaval which would result from such a life-extending drug, threatening mass unemployment, mass starvation, and greater inequality as the natural balance is thrown out of the window. Governments would fall, Cleary says, as they try to manage the unrest resulting from the clash between the new ‘have and have-nots’: the “live and live-nots”.  

As an author, Cleary has a satisfyingly clear and concise writing style that keeps the story moving forward as it jumps from player to player, situation to situation. Nothing is overplayed but conveyed perfectly to pack a solid emotional punch every time, be it moments of action, violence, or tragedy—of which there are plenty. 

Until the medical breakthrough described in the novel comes to pass, life remains short and Elixir by Phil Cleary is just too good to miss out on. It’s more than deserves a place on every thriller fan’s bucket list. 

Elixir by Phil Cleary is out now on Amazon, priced £9.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook. For more information, visit www.PhilCleary.com.

Phil Cleary: From SmartWater To Smart Writer 

We profile pioneering entrepreneur-turned-author Phil Cleary, co-founder of forensic technology company The SmartWater Group and one of Britain’s foremost innovators. 

One of the big things that leaps out at you when you read political thriller Elixir is how realistic it seems, with both the corporate and criminal worlds rendered so convincingly that you could be right there in the scene with the characters.  

While this is ultimately down to the skill of the author, Phil Cleary does have the advantage thanks to his professional background. 

Growing up in Merseyside, he was introduced to the virtues of hard work and perseverance by his father, an Irish immigrant who never failed to keep food on the table for his family even if it meant having to work several jobs at the same time. 

With employment opportunities drying up as Liverpool declined as an industrial hub, he would go on to own several shops. His inspirational entrepreneurial journey from penniless orphan to self-made man had a deep and lasting impact on his son. 

After finishing college, Cleary initially pursued a career as a computer engineer but soon came to regret his choice, which he felt lacked the excitement and opportunity he hungered for.  

Still in his early twenties, he transitioned to law enforcement, joining the West Midlands police force and specialising in undercover work until a car accident forced his early retirement on medical grounds. 

While in uniform, he had become increasingly frustrated with cases where criminals were able to get away with their crimes because of a lack of forensic evidence connecting the goods they had stolen with the original owners.  

In conjunction with his brother, Mike, a Chartered Chemist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, he developed a workable, reliable solution to this perennial problem: SmartWater. 

This pioneering forensic security tagging technology won the Prince of Wales Award for Innovation in 1996, with Phil collecting his award from the future King Charles himself on a special episode of BBC flagship science show Tomorrow’s World. 

The SmartWater Group was launched thereafter and under Phil’s control as co-founder and CEO, it transformed from a two-person operation into an international company with nearly 200 employees and millions of business and domestic customers nationally and internationally, including all UK police forces. 

In 2008, Phil and his brother established not-for-profit organisation The SmartWater Foundation, to plough some of their profits back to help initiatives that would help hard-pressed communities worldwide. 

Highlights of the Foundation’s work to date include assisting the US State Department in stopping terrorist organisation ISIS funding its activities through the sale of plundered Syrian artefacts, achieved through the development of a special type of SmartWater that could be applied to artefacts without causing damage. The Foundation also funded the training of FBI agents, the Met Police and the French Gendarmerie in detecting, retrieving and submitting evidence to the SmartWater labs to analyse and provide expert testimony in court. 

Phil, who was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts in recognition of his entrepreneurial achievements in 2009, retired from The SmartWater Group (now rebranded as DeterTech) in 2021 after private equity house Freshstream bought a majority stake with a valuation of £150million. 

But the entrepreneurial spirit is hard to set aside and he is currently developing a new business venture which promises to reduce road traffic accidents in the same way that SmartWater has significantly reduced crime rates across Britain and beyond. 


Q&A Interview With Phil Cleary 

As well as being the author of political thriller Elixir, Phil Cleary is one of the UK’s most respected and successful entrepreneurs. We speak to him about the secrets of his business success and why the field of life extension troubles him greatly. 

Q. Where did the idea for SmartWater come from, and what are you most proud about the product? 

A. The catalyst was my experience as a police officer, dealing with criminals who capitalised on the gap in technology that prevented us from proving their presence at the scene of a crime at the time it took place. Furthermore, the lack of robust technology that provided proof of ownership of stolen property and which thieves would find very difficult to destroy was a constant source of frustration for the police. SmartWater solved both those problems. 

Q. Under your control, The SmartWater Group grew into a multi-million-pound company. What are the secrets of your success? 

A. Identify a need and provide a cost-effective solution. Be tenacious but remain patient. Never stand still but continue to innovate. Treat your staff well, as though they are a part of your family—it encourages hard work and breeds loyalty. Finally, be humble, even when success is achieved.   

Q. You entered the business world after a career in policing. How did you develop your evident entrepreneurial flair? 

A. I believe I inherited my entrepreneurialism and work ethic from my parents, as my father was the poorest of the poor, an Irish orphan brought up by nuns but who went on to own a string of shops, sometimes holding down three jobs (a part-time fireman, farmhand, and bartender). He never once ‘signed on’ or claimed welfare. My mother was also a hard worker but also gave me the support and advice, such as, when 15, I was dithering about going after my first shop job (Burton’s) as I thought I was too young but she said, “You’ll never get anywhere by hesitating, grab the bull by the horns and go get it!” I got the job, and both my parents’ advice and examples have stayed with me. 

Q. Your novel, Elixir, positions life extension as a danger to everyone. Why do you see life-extension as a potential global threat? 

A. At the time of writing, there were 130 labs in the USA working on some form of life-extension treatment. Elixir postulates what would happen if the drug slowed down the aging process by an extraordinary, but not unrealistic, amount. 

Why’s that a problem? I’ve always been interested in the environment and sustainability, and it’s generally accepted that our natural resources are already under threat, with water becoming a source of concern as the world heats up. So, for every year we extend life, we will have more mouths to feed. Elixir shines a light on the issue, albeit amplified.  

Phil Cleary is the author of Elixir, an explosive thriller that reframes mankind’s dream for immortality into a global threat greater than AI. 

Q. If life extension is as great a threat to the world as you suggest, how do you think governments should act to prevent such a threat becoming reality? 

A. I believe that unfettered development of life-extension drugs needs to be discussed at government level, alongside the current forums about AI, with pharma companies encouraged to participate. Unless greed gets in the way, some sort of regulation needs to be considered, providing governmental control of the sale of the drugs. But, as I highlight in Elixir, this is not as easy as it sounds. 

Q. How do you hope readers respond to your novel? 

A. My sincere hope is that they ponder the impact of a drug like Elixir and ask themselves, having read the book, would they take it. My guess is that, if it was as cheap as a price of a pint, they would. Hence the need for some form of regulation. 

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