Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Creep" by Jennifer Hillier

Dr. Sheila Tao is a psychology professor who has just ended a three-month affair with Ethan Wolfe, her teaching assistant, as she is about to get married to Morris Gardner, the managing partner of a big bank. Ethan doesn't take too kindly to being dumped and reveals his sociopathic/psychopathic side and makes her life hell. He threatens to release a sex tape of the two of them. He shirks his teaching assisant duties and plays all sorts of mind games. When that's not enough, he goes and kidnaps her.

Morris is convinced that Sheila hasn't just abruptly taken off for parts unknown, although that's what the police think. He is eventually put into contact with private detective Jerry Isaac and the two of them try to find out what happened to Sheila.

I'm not sure what this book wants us to feel about the character of Sheila Tao. While I liked her, I wasn't certain if that's what the book wanted me to do. She's punished and humiliated so consistently throughout the novel I got the uneasy sensation that this novel was suggesting she somehow deserved what was coming to her. Yes, she's done a lot of dumb things, but jeez, talk about overkill.

For me, events took a turn for the worse when Sheila was kidnapped. Until then, the psychological mind games were both suspenseful and believable. Once she was stuck in Ethan's basement, it just turned into another second-rate torture-porn scenario which placed our heroine into increasingly far-fetched and mean-spirited situations. Also, the focus then shifted to Morris and Jerry's attempts to track down Sheila.

The problem here is that I know where Sheila is. Following Morris and Jerry around so much was a little dull. There was a distinct lack of urgency. Despite the fact Sheila is being held against her will in Ethan's basement, the author is unable to generate the necessary tension or make us believe that Ethan will kill Sheila at any moment. Therefore I didn't feel any sort of race-against-time element to Morris and Jerry's investigation.

Throw in one unnecessary (and convenient) plot twist, then another more-obvious plot twist (that sets up potential sequels) and a pathetic, non-existant climax and there you have it. "Creep" is initially involving, but degenerates into the sort of cheap and nasty written equivalent of a torture-porn thriller that would get released straight to DVD. I like my suspense clever and edgy. Or fun and trashy. Actually, I like all sorts of suspense, just not the sort that uncomfortably suggests that the supposed-to-be-sympathetic main character deserves what she's getting.

"The Executioner" by Chris Carter

Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia are on the trail of a vicious serial killer. The first victim is a priest who has been decapitated and his head replaced with that of a dog's. The second victim is a real estate agent who is literally cooked alive. They eventually realise that somebody has murdered them according to their deepest, darkest fears. Now they must find what links the victims and stop anybody else from being next.

Complicating the case is their new boss Captain Barbara Blake, who likes to play by the book and keeps threatening to take them off the case if they don't tow the line. Also, the case introduces them to a young psychic girl called Mollie Woods, who provides them with some clues, but who is running from a dangerous past.

Carter's first novel "The Crucifix Killer" wasn't terribly good, but there were faint signs of promise. Thankfully, Carter mostly delivers on that promise, as "The Executioner" is a far tighter effort than its predecessor. Short chapters ensure that the reader powers through the fast-paced plot. The mystery behind the murderer's motive and the connection between the victims is engaging and suspenseful. The murders themselves are extremely mean-spirited and gory, giving the book some edge, and it probably shouldn't be read by the faint-hearted. The characterisation is thin, but the characters likeable enough to provide a solid anchor to the gruesome things going down around them.

The main problem here is Mollie Woods, the psychic girl. She's not a bad character - in fact, she's quite likeable and I cared about what happened to her. It was the psychic angle. It just didn't work. At all. In the end she doesn't provide the detectives with all that much to go on. She seems to be around simply so that there can be a sympathetic female character who is ultimately placed into mortal danger. But her situation and her past have very little to do with the main storyline. It basically just gets in the way.

Later on in the book the detectives are able to identify other people who are targets for the killer. One of them is female. Surely it would have made more sense to make this character the core sympathetic damsel in distress? It would have really upped the tension if a main character were at risk from the main villian. While I didn't dislike Molly, I simply couldn't figure out why Carter made her a psychic of all things, then failed to do anything significant with her supposed link to the killer.

Another element that annoyed me was the tendency to give an entire life history of insignificant characters. If they don't have any bearing on the story - I don't need to know! This even happens right in the middle of the book's climax! One minute I'm reading about main characters caught in a dire situation, the next I'm learning the history of some girl called Susan who's been mentioned maybe twice in the whole book. It's annoying and unnecessary. However, Carter isn't the first author to do this and obviously will not be the last.

Otherwise, I'm very pleased to find another author who has easily outdone their clunky first novel. "The Executioner" was grisly, fast-paced fun and I will be picking up the next one.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"The Creeper" by Tania Carver

Suzanne Perry is convinced she is being stalked by a mysterious figure who visits her while she sleeps. She's awake, but unable to move, unsure if it's a nightmare or not. The scenario proves to be real when she finds a polaroid the next morning, taken of her the night before. On the back are the words "I'm watching over you". Unfortunately, because of another stalking claim she had made that couldn't be proved, the police aren't entirely ready to believe this latest case.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Phil Brennan and his team's latest case is the dead body of a woman who has been gruesomely murdered, with obvious sexual mutilation. The links to Suzanne Perry's situation soon become apparent. Clues are uncovered quickly, but it's quite a complicated, messy case. New team member Rose Martin is overly ambitious. New profiler Fiona Welsh is rubbing everybody up the wrong way and her profile doesn't seem on the mark. Brennan must also deal with his partner Marina Esposito, whose self-absorption must break some sort of Guinness World Record. Her appalling behaviour also distracts him from the case.

I have two major gripes with this novel, which I'll get out the way first, since I love to gripe. Firstly, there are some truly stupid character moves to be found here, obviously to force the plot where it needs to go. The Creeper, whom we quickly learn is hiding somewhere in  Suzanne's house, jerks off into a pair of her underwear and leaves it in the fridge as a present to her. Now, Suzanne has had trouble convincing the police she really is being stalked. Do her and her friend high-tail it out of there and contact the police with irrefutable proof that somebody is after Suzanne and has handily left behind some DNA? No, they get rid of the soiled underwear and stay overnight because Suzanne doesn't want to be chased out of her home.

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Somebody here is Too Stupid To Live.

Second major issue is the character of Marina Esposito. I truly disliked her in the first novel, "The Surrogate". Here, she is even worse. I DESPISED her. She's worse than Lena Adams from Karin Slaughter's novels. In fact, I don't think I have ever come across a more infuriating, odious character. Everything about her is ME, ME, ME. Her ex-lover is now brain-dead, left that way after a blow to the head he received in the previous novel. Marina thinks it's her fault. She also blames Phil, of course. It's HER decision over whether to turn off life support or not. Consequently, she takes off with her and Phil's baby daughter Josephina without saying where she's going and refusing to pick up the phone when he calls her. Because it's all just too much for her.

Phil just lets her get away with her atrocious behaviour. He's happy to wait for her to sort her issues out because he loves her so, so much. Phil - you're a douche. You're letting this selfish bitch walk all over you. Grow a pair of balls and send her packing. While you're at it, sue for full custody and make sure your daughter doesn't grow up with a crazy, narcissistic sociopath for a mother. For the first two thirds of the novel, the story grinds to a complete halt every time we have to spend a chapter with this disgusting woman.

Thankfully, in the last third she is marginally less irritating.

Now that my complaints are out the way, I have to say that this is actually a terrific thriller. Yes, you heard me right. It is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. Those two gripes did take me out of the novel, but the rest was so good that I was ultimately able to forgive it. I found "The Creeper" to be legitimately scary, well-plotted and fast-paced. It got right what so many other crime novels get wrong. It stayed true to the police procedural angle, but made sure that something interesting was always happening. I was never bored. The killer was frightening and their origins revealed in a clever fashion. The plot twists were nicely timed. Once you figured out what was going on, something else would happen to keep you guessing about another aspect of the plot.

I started reading this one after midnight after a bout of insomia. I'm more than happy to pull out that old cliche of having to read with all the lights on, as that so rarely happens to me anymore when reading a thriller. This was genuinely scary and suspenseful, and built to a great climax. Books like this are the very reason why I'll give an author a second chance. "The Creeper" sucked me in, kept me hooked and, yes, gave me the creeps. Good job.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Sweetheart" by Chelsea Cain

Det. Archie Sheridan, still in a tortured frame of mind from the time he spent as serial killer Gretchen Lowell's captive, is on the case when several bodies are discovered in Forest Park. It appears they may be linked to the death of a Senator whose car went off a bridge. The other person in the Senator's car was Quentin Parker, mentor to Susan Ward, a journalist who has previously worked with Archie, and who even has a little crush on him.

The case is set aside, however, when Gretchen Lowell manages to escape custody during a prison transfer. Archie becomes willing to sacrifice his own life in order to catch her. Or does he just want to be with her?

I read "Heartsick", which was the precursor to this thriller. It was a fast-paced, entertaining serial killer thriller. I don't think Gretchen Lowell is as fascinating as the author seems to think she is, but it still made for a decent read. The original explored the odd relationship between Archie and Gretchen - he almost needs her in his life, kind of like a drug - but the ending suggested he was moving forward psychologically. Also, that book had a central plotline clearly linked to Archie's bond with Gretchen.

Here, Cain just throws two plotlines together because neither one was strong enough to work as a stand-alone novel. The murders in Forest Park are linked to a story Susan was working on in the first novel, in which a Senator covered up an affair with an underage babysitter. However, Susan seems doggedly determined to complete a story that nobody gives a shit about - not even the police, really. They're happy to throw the murders on the backburner while they pursue Gretchen. If none of the characters care, why should we? It's a barely-developed subplot that mostly just gets in the way and is resolved far too easily. It also has no links to Gretchen's escape from prison. It's just there to fill up the word count.

The main element that unfortunately kills this novel is Archie Sheridan himself. "Heartsick" at least made him somewhat sympathetic. He went through hell with Gretchen. The Stockholm Syndrome-like link he had with her was understandable. The first novel suggested he was ready to leave her behind and focus on mending his relationship with his wife and two kids.

However, cash came calling and Cain has regressed the character entirely. Archie is now a self-pitying martyr who cares more about the safety and welfare of a serial killer than he does his own children. How am I possibly supposed to like him? He uses everybody around him to his own advantage in his single-minded pursuit in being with Gretchen again. I felt absolutely zero sympathy towards him. In fact, I actively disliked him. I couldn't understand why the people in his life kept trying to help him.

As a consequence, I just couldn't care less about the further exploration of his relationship with Gretchen. I didn't care if he killed her, or she killed him. I wasn't too concerned whether or not Det. Harry Sobel, his partner, would save him in time. The multiple sex scenes found in this novel were also highly icky.

There's a very good sequence involving Gretchen going after Archie's kids at school. It worked because the characters were innocent, and it really ratcheted up the tension. More stuff like that could have really helped. Similarly, I liked the character of Susan Ward. Her idiotic character moves in the finale seemed more like the work of an author desperate to find a way to keep things going for a further sequel. As of writing, an Internet search revealed that there are three more books in the series, all featuring Gretchen. The author obviously isn't willing to let this cash cow go.

I'll give it this - it maintained my interest and I read it quickly. But whereas the original was aiming to please readers with some freshness and suspense, this one smacks more of establishing a profitable franchise at the expense of likeable characters or plot credibility.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Judas Kiss" by J.T. Ellison

Lt. Taylor Jackson is called to the scene of murder victim Corinne Wolfe, who has been viciously bashed to death. Her daughter had been left alone in the house with the dead body. The prime suspect is her husband Todd Wolfe, of course. He doesn't make it look good for himself when he keeps changing his story, and the evidence against him is overwhelming.

But Taylor has other problems. Her fiance, John Baldwin, just happens to have spent the last ten years consulting for the CIA in regards to the serial killers that they let do their dirty work, or their assassins who have gone rogue. Yeah, I found it a little ludicrous too. Anyway, a serial killer named only Aiden, who has a grudge against Baldwin, is now in town to kill Taylor, as he knows the best way to get revenge on Baldwin is to take away from him those he loves. Although he has a multitude of opportunities to take Taylor out, he's not terribly proactive about it.

Also on Taylor's plate is the head of the Office Of Professional Responsibility, Delores Norris. She apparently wants Taylor's head on a platter and will stop at nothing to try and derail her career. There's also a mysterious enemy who has released sex tapes of Taylor, and doctored a video that makes it look like she shot a former lover in cold blood. These videos are good fodder for Delores' mission to discredit Taylor. While tackling all these issues, Taylor takes time out every now and then to try and solve the murder mystery that you'd think was supposed to be the main crux of the story.

I own too many books. I think it's because that, no matter how routine or bad something is, I just have to find out what happens next. It's a compulsion. It's also the only explanation I can think of as to why I bothered with another book by J.T. Ellison after the thoroughly dull "14". I had to re-read my review of it on this blog to refresh my memory as to what actually happened in that book. Yes, it was that memorable. The end of that book had a serial killer known as The Pretender still on the run and off the grid. Maybe I picked up "Judas Kiss" because I wanted to see what happened to The Pretender?

He's on the outskirts of this plot, which is probably a good thing because Taylor has no less than four adversaries to deal with already in this ridiculous novel. The plotline regarding who murdered Corinne Wolfe is too thin to fill a proper novel, so Ellison packs this full with other storylines to try and take up space. The result is that none of the storylines are explored to their full potential or resolved with any sort of suspense or excitement. Taylor's stalking by Aiden provides the novel with its only thrilling moments. But the scenario is just too ludicrous for words. John's conveniently been a consultant for the CIA for the last ten years? Yeah, good one. The plotline is wrapped up very abruptly - thanks to The Pretender no less - with The Pretender's storyline to obviously be explored in a further novel (which I most likely won't be around for).

Then we have the leaked sex tape and the tape of Taylor murdering David Martin, her former police partner and lover. Was this former lover ever mentioned in the previous books? Or the fact that she had to shoot and kill him in self defence? Is there ANYBODY out there who hasn't wanted Taylor dead at some point? Similarly, the adversary behind the sex tapes is another person who has it in for Taylor. He's never been mentioned before, but apparently knows just how to get under Taylor's skin. The two of them are even two sides to the same coin, apparently! That's a comment from Taylor herself, by the way.

As for Delores Norris, the "Oompa" who wants to destroy Taylor's career, her only motive apparently is that she's a totally self-absorbed bitch. I hate to say it (actually, I don't), but Taylor herself is a bit of a self-absorbed bitch, too. It's all "me, me, me!" I guess it helps that half the country wants her dead. I'd be a bit self-absorbed if it were me.

In one truly stupid sequence, Taylor pulls out her gun and makes threats to a person she is questioning. Really? That's allowed? Taylor actually seems shocked when the person reports her. She seems to be even more shocked when the Office Of Professional Responsibility condemns her for it. What planet is this woman from? YOU PULLED A GUN ON A SUSPECT YOU STUPID BINT. This alone was enough to take me out of the novel and left me struggling to finish. Combine this with the multiple under-developed plotlines, barely established characters, and the author's annoying tendency to explain the history behind every bloody monument in Nashville and you have an exercise in pure, unrelenting tedium. The biggest mystery here is how such a crowded, busy novel could be so dull.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Bone Man's Daughters" by Ted Dekker

Ryan Evans is a US Navy intelligence analyst who is captured in Iraq where terrorist Khalid forces him to choose between the death of his wife and child, or watch a child he doesn't know have all their bones broken in front of him. Seven children are killed before he is able to escape. Understandably, he is now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and isn't quite in his right mind.

But his problems are only just beginning. Wife Celine and daughter Bethany refuse to have anything to do with him anymore, since he has always been on assignment, and never been there for them. District attorney Burt Welsh has now moved in on the family. Events culminate in a restraining order being placed on Ryan so that he can't see his daughter.

Meanwhile, a serial killer dubbed Bone Man is about to be released from prison because of the faulty evidence that convicted him. He's dubbed Bone Man as he likes to break every bone in his teenage female victim's body without breaking the skin. However, Agent Ricki Valentine believes the wrong man is behind bars anyway. She's proven right when Bone Man conveniently chooses Bethany as his next victim. All he wants is a daughter who loves him as much as he loves himself. He breaks their bones when they fail to make the grade.

Ryan's erratic behaviour and his experience in Iraq with a terrorist with a similar modus operandi immediately pegs him as actually being Bone Man himself. He must try to evade the authorities on his tail while also playing a game with Bone Man, who has given him seven days to try and save his daughter.

A little research on the Internet revealed to me that Ted Dekker is actually a well-known Christian author. Fans of his Christian work did not like this book with it's nasty subject matter and smattering of profanity. Actually, most Christian readers were more offended by the use of the word "Goddamn" than the fact the plot involved a serial killer who liked to break the bones of teenage girls. Go figure.

Knowing that Dekker is a devout Christian explains the fact that this novel is very heavy on the religious allegory. Ryan represents God, Bone Man represents the Devil, and Bethany represents the non-believer whose soul they are battling over. Or something like that. If Dekker had placed more focus on delivering believable characters with realistic dialogue and less on the (obvious) symbolism, this thriller could have had something going for it. As it is, what we have is very repetitive, largely predictable and devoid of plot twists.
Ryan repeats over and over again - "he couldn't do it! But how could he not do it? He had to save his daughter!" or words to that effect. The one plot twist this tries to deliver at the end is rather absurd.

The book does score points for its premise, and its nastiness did make me squirm. Despite this, the actual "on-site" violence is very limited. The mere suggestion of what people are doing (being forced to break other peoples' bones) is quite enough, and Dekker wisely leaves it to the reader's imagination. It's a pity that this tense, disturbing scenario didn't evolve into a gripping thriller, as it really could have been one. Unfortunately, the author is too preoccupied with delivering an allegory instead. Nevertheless, I'm not going to dismiss the author out of hand just yet. Even though I'm not religious, I don't mind religion being used to explore the dark themes often found in thriller material. "Bone Man's Daughters" suggests that Dekker could one day deliver something memorable.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Stay Close" by Harlan Coben

Megan Pierce is a married mother beginning to resent her Soccer Mum lifestyle. She used to be a wild party girl and stripper and wants to revisit what she used to have (she called herself Cassie back then). She gets her chance when new information comes to light regarding the disappearance seventeen years ago of Stewart Green. She used to date Stewart despite the fact he was married, but he was violent and abusive towards her. The last time she saw him she thought he was dead, so she took off, changed her name and created a new life for herself, in case the police think she murdered him. She decides to re-emerge when she is contacted by Lorraine, a friend from her old life, who believes she has seen Stewart and he is, in fact, alive and well.

This news excites Detective Broome, as he has never been able to let Stewart's disappearance go. He believes that Stewart's disappearance is linked to the recent disappearance of Carlton Flynn, not to mention other men who have gone missing throughout the years, all close to the same date. With Megan unable to confirm whether Stewart was dead when she last saw him, the possibility increases that he could still be alive.

Also thrown into the mix is Ray Levine, who used to be a highly-regarded photojournalist until the night he also saw Stewart's body and Megan (or Cassie as he knew her) disappeared from his life. Now his life is in ruins - he drinks too much and now poses as a paparazzo for those who aren't famous but wish to pretend they are. He managed to take a photo of Carlton before he disappeared, so he anonymously sends the picture to the police. When it is noticed that Carlton and Stewart both went missing on the same date in the same place, it further connects the cases.

Del Flynn is Carlton Flynn's father and is distraught at the disappearance of his son. In order to find answers that the police can't, he hires a pair of total psychopaths dubbed Ken and Barbie to find the truth. They are happy to torture people for answers, and aren't afraid to bump off anybody who might identify them. Which person is innocent? Which person is guilty? Which person is about to fatally collide with Ken and Barbie? Secrets are exposed as the seventeen-year-old cold case gets closer to being solved.

Harlan Coben has finally hit rock bottom with this clunker. Look at all that exposition just to describe the set-up to an otherwise simple story. The signs were there with "Caught" that the author who could once be relied upon to deliver a taut, tightly-paced thriller was close to running on auto-pilot. This one feels as if he wrote it while he was asleep. There's not a lot of mystery or suspense to be found, the characters are cliched and their motivations both murky and lacking conviction. What on Earth makes Megan want to abandon a loving husband and children to revisit a past where she was a stripper and abused by a possessive boyfriend? Then again, her connection to Stewart is ill-defined. Was she dating him? Or was she dating Ray? She keeps claiming Ray was the love of her life. So what was she doing with Stewart? It didn't exactly make me warm to her.

Ray fares even worse. What a wet blanket. Who wants to spend time with a loser who sits around and feels sorry for himself? It's been seventeen years, you douche. Move on! The book offers a reason for his sadsackery, but it's quite ludicrous. The dialogue between him and Megan when they finally reunite is excruciating. Even the worst romance author would cringe at the exchanges between the two. Detective Broome is also something of a sadsack. It's a bit of a worry that the most undeveloped main character is the most sympathetic. Yet his motivation for being obsessed with the case doesn't ring true. From all accounts, Stewart Green was a violent jerk. You get the feeling Broome's obsession has more to do with plot convenience than bringing closure to Green's wife, Sarah.

The subplot involving Ken and Barbie is only around to bring a sense of forced danger to the proceedings. Without them, this tale would simply involve the solving of a cold case that brings no threat to any character and carries no urgency. Their presence is a cheap, transparent ploy to add some suspense (and a bit of gratuitous violence) to a story that would otherwise have none. I mean, Del Flynn could easily have hired a private detective to find out what happened to his son. Why does he hire a couple of psycho? How did he even know them? It's truly pathetic. Finally, Coben falls back on his old favourite theme of "I would do anything for my children. They are precious, parenthood goes so quickly" and blah, blah, blah. He's now just flogging the same old dead horse.

I can't believe this drivel came from the author of such thriller classics as "Gone For Good" and "Tell No One". Apparently Coben has made a foray into teen fiction with "Shelter". If this basic, connect-the-dots plotting is any indication, he should probably stay there, though I doubt even teenagers would be fooled by the tired tricks he is pulling out of his hat. Stay far away from this one.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Obedience" by Will Lavender

Mary, Brian and Dennis are students in Professor L. Williams' course called Logic And Reasoning. His assignment for the class is a fictional scenario in which a young girl called Polly has been kidnapped. They have until the end of semester to figure out where she is being kept. If they don't figure it out, she will be murdered.

Mary and Brian in particular become heavily involved in the assignment. This only increases when the professor's assistant alerts them to a case from twenty years previously in which a young girl called Deanna Ward went missing and was never found. Both cases are eerily similar and Williams even wrote a book about the case. As the semester draws to a close, more and more strange events occur that seem to connect the real case with the figurative one. What does Williams know about Deanna's disappearance? Are they still completing an assignment or solving a decades-old cold case?

It is hard to provide opinions on this book without including massive spoilers. This book has been out for three or four years now, so I imagine most people interested in reading it will likely already have done so. However, for the sake of not being an asshole, once again I point out that there will be spoilers.


At first, I was really drawn into this novel. An original idea, plus a crime thriller that didn't involve world-weary cops or forensic investigators. Amazing! However, just past halfway through, I figured out that it was all one big set-up. Exactly what sort of set-up I wasn't too sure, but I was certain it would all end up being a massive cheat. I kept reading to the end, half-hoping I was wrong, and to also see exactly what the set-up would be.

It turns out that the entire scenario was devised by Elizabeth Orman, the wife of the Dean of the university. She was doing a dissertation for her PhD in Behavioural Psychology and Mary and Brian were the subjects. Elizabeth wanted to test how far a person would theoretically go to save a person they didn't know. Dennis was in on what Elizabeth dubbed "The Polly Experiment", ensuring that Mary and Brian would follow the clues correctly. Every single person they spoke to was an actor hired to take part in the elaborate scheme. The Deanna Ward case was also a fabrication.

Now, if you're going to throw a massive curveball at your reader that upends everything that came before it, it needs to make sense. This doesn't make sense, as there is no way it could EVER happen. A behavioural psychology study with human subjects that haven't provided consent? PLEASE! Imagine the lawsuits! How much money did this small university have on hand to pay so many actors to take part? How did they know everything would happen at exactly the right time? Why didn't one of the students take two minutes to contact the police about the Deanna Ward case? That would have ended the entire ruse right there. What happened to the rest of the students in the class? It is the most absurd, stupid twist ending I have read. Yes, it even trumps the stupid twist ending found in "The Shepherd".

There are references to the experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram regarding how far a person would go to obey authority. It's a fascinating study, but not entirely relevant, since the students are doing a Logic And Reasoning course, and the dissertation involves how far a person would go to save a theoretical victim of a theoretical crime. You find out at the end that the Dean was a subject of Milgram's experiment, which could suggest why he went along with his wife's study - he's still obeying authority.

But there are plot holes in this novel big enough to drive a truck through. While I don't mind being cheated cleverly, I certainly don't appreciate wasting several hours of my life on a patently absurd premise that bears no real-world resemblence. Did I obey authority by reading the book until the end? Is the joke on me? I admire that the book tried for something different, but at the end I wasn't satisfied. In fact, I was almost angry. Novels like this demonstrate a level of contempt for its readers, and that is never a good thing.