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The Human Trial
Audrey Gale
Gale (The Sausage Maker’s Daughters) delivers relatable characters and high-stakes action in this Depression-era medical thriller. Randall Archer hails from a family of hulky steelworkers, but his brilliance and flawless schoolwork land him a scholarship to Harvard University—and a way out of his troubling, abusive home life. Once at Harvard, Randall opts for pathology as his specialty, studying under Dr. Errol Dole while working in the medical lab, where Dole asks him to keep an eye on the lab’s happenings and report back to him—paving a seemingly smooth path for Randall’s academic career.

The often-dicey balance between helping patients and fitting into a well-established medical system is at play throughout, and Gale subtly highlights that dilemma in Randall’s work. He’s an obvious genius, and when physicist Adam Wakefield befriends him, sharing his groundbreaking research on the microscope, the two form a collaboration that spawns exciting, though frightening, discoveries. Randall goes along with Dole’s habit of cutting corners with lab results and records to gain his favor, but after his marriage to the wealthy Elizabeth Perrish angers her influential family, Randall finds himself at odds with Dole—and suddenly without future employment, thanks to Elizabeth’s parents. A chance reunification with Wakefield opens up opportunities for the couple at the University of Los Angeles, but the move isn’t the golden answer they were hoping for, and before long their marriage is in jeopardy.

Long-winded scientific discussions between Randall and Wakefield drag at times, but the three central characters are compelling. Randall’s fear and insecurity are offset by Elizabeth’s drive to gain independence over wealth, but her decision at the end of the novel, though prompted by cataclysmic happenings, rings hollow. Randall is a heart wrenching portrayal of poverty’s intergenerational impacts, and Gale’s exploration of how vested interests can influence medical research is absorbing. This is a suspenseful introduction to the trilogy.

Takeaway: A Depression-era thriller addressing the ethics of medical research.

Comparable Titles: Megan Giddings’s Lakewood, Lydia Kang’s A Beautiful Poison.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A