Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Neuropath" by Scott Bakker

Wow. I've got to admit my brain hurt a little after reading this one. My outlook on the world and existence itself was also affected, thanks to the bleak ending. While marketed as being part of the crime genre, "Neuropath" is more of a science-fiction thriller, thankfully abandoning the typical attention-to-detail-and-police-procedure-accuracy that can sink most other crime novels. However, there is an abundance of philosophical debate which can get a little weary.

Professor Thomas Bible is contacted by the FBI because they believe his best friend from his college days - Neil Cassidy - is now kidnapping and torturing people. At first Thomas couldn't believe such a thing. But this killer seems to be using methods based on something they called The Argument, which was a frequent topic of conversation between them at university. Essentially, it's an argument about physiology versus consciousness - we are merely extension of our brains, reacting to the environment and other stimuli. Any decisions we make aren't really based on our own free will, but merely our consciousness becoming aware of the decision after the brain has already made it. Which suggests that there is no such thing as free will in the first place. So Neil Cassidy is kidnapping people, cutting open their heads and re-wiring their brains to demonstrate this. One woman is rewired to program pleasure as pain. Another is rewired so that he never recognises a person's face - everybody is a stranger. When Thomas discovers that Neil was having a long-standing affair with his ex-wife Nora, he slowly comes to realise that he's at the centre of Neil's lunatic behaviour. With FBI Agent Samantha Logan, he tries to anticipate his former friend's next move.

It's actually quite hard to explain the philosophical theories at the core of "Neuropath" - I'm not entirely sure I grasped it all myself. But it certainly gives you a lot to think about, whilst also delivering the goods as a scary, gruesome thriller. There's a minor subplot about another serial killer called "The Chiropractor", who likes to remove his victim's spines (yum), which ultimately connects to the main plot in a wonderfully twisted way. Like I said, all the philosophical debate gets a little heavy at times, and some of Thomas Bible's inner monologues are really tiresome, but "Neuropath" is a genuinely disturbing, frightening novel with some jarring plot twists that attempts to be a little more cerebral than your typical thriller and generally succeeds. If you're willing to stick with it, I highly recommend it. And I'd just love to see Hollywood put out a movie called "The Chiropractor". I can imagine the tagline now: "He'll send a chill down your spine....before he rips it out!"

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