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D. Michael Hallman
Paul Lazarus has created a miracle: a drug that restores sight to blind animals. In a clinical trial to test its safety in humans, it works spectacularly in two patients. Or does it? Kathy Wright is depressed to find her eyes can now perceive images, but her brain can make no sense of them; her vision is all but useless. What’s more, she’s not the same Kathy; she’s become impulsive and unpredictable. Unlike Kathy, Trey Osborne now sees perfectly. But instead of being happy, he’s grown unaccountably angry, with a hair-trigger temper that’s already turned lethal once. He’s a bomb ready to explode, and he wants answers. Who better to get them from than the drug’s creator? But Paul Lazarus himself doesn’t know everything his drug is doing. He only knows that since inhaling it by accident, he’s had an affair with his assistant and a very public meltdown. His career in tatters, he can’t convince those running the trial that his drug is causing problems—they’re blinded by dollar signs. As these intertwining stories build to a shocking climax, how many lives will the miracle drug wreck—or end?
This suspenseful miracle-drug medical thriller from Hallman, a debut, kicks off with the kind of classic speculative hook that has grabbed readers since the dawn of the science fiction and horror genres. A scientist has discovered a wonder cure—in this case OGF83, which stimulates the optic nerve and could, in some cases, restore sight to the blind—and now it’s time to test it on humans. Unblinded introduces two patients at the first clinical trials: church-organist and cocktail pianist Kathy Wright, who doesn’t expect much and is quite happy as she is, and engineer Trey Osborne, who shouts “Yes!” before his doctor finishes explaining the possibilities … or risks. The early chapters capture the life-changing excitement of both experiencing positive early results, the disorientation of brains “catching up” to so much new input, and the discomfort of OGF83 inventor Paul Lazarus, who seems alarmed in direct proportion to the trial’s success.

Of course he has reason to worry, as Unblinded skillfully teases out. Hallman understands reader expectations and seems to relish ramping up tension through the careful introduction and accumulation of developments that suggest something is deeply wrong about OGF83, especially when, in a series of intriguingly disturbing scenes, the characters begin making risky choices in their personal lives, including some shocking violence. Readers will likely have a sense of what’s going on before the characters, but Hallman continually toys with that anticipation.

Eventually, the story builds to a murder investigation. Looming over everything is the economic reality of big pharma chasing a “blockbuster” drug. The prose tends to be workmanlike, never getting in the way of narrative momentum, but Hallman plots the story well and writes engagingly of the science and the politics of drug companies and research institutions. Crucially, he crafts characters who are convincing and engaging enough to keep the pages turning right up to the ending, which satisfies—and even edges toward a welcome hopefulness.

Takeaway: A classic medical thriller about a wonder drug and its mystery side effects.

Great for fans of: Michael Palmer’s Miracle Cure, Paul John Scott’s Malcharist.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A