When you think of game theory, do you think of chalk-dusty economists droning endlessly about the permutations of optimal outcomes and short-term payoffs? Perhaps not. But even if you do, Hector MacDonald's first novel will make this esoteric field exotic, dangerous, and downright sexy.
Ben Ashurst is a student at Oxford. He leads a fairly placid life, befriending shy girls, playing "keep up with the Joneses" with his crowd of wealthy (and nasty) friends, and trying to impress his tutor, the brilliant and controversial behavioral scientist James Fieldhead. A single day, however, is enough to turn his calm existence upside down. When he meets the beautiful and enigmatic Cara, and when Fieldhead requests Ben's participation in a ground-breaking research experiment, Ben will find himself thrust into a life where every measure of normality is rent asunder.
Fieldhead, working in conjunction with a nameless but powerful corporation, has developed a way to measure emotions by tracking the brain's physiological responses to stimuli. At his request, Ben submits to having a tiny sensor attached to his skull, and, filled with a guinea pig's pride, is sent off to Kenya with Cara for three weeks of recreation and stimulation. But vacation turns to terror when a case of mistaken identity lands Ben in a Kenyan jail, where the stimulation is anything but positive. Struggling to keep his mental balance, Ben begins wondering whether someone is manipulating the experiment and to what purpose. His search for answers will lead him into the highest corporate boardrooms and into the depths of treachery and betrayal.
The novel fairly quivers with energy: reading it is like holding a manic Chihuahua. MacDonald has places to go and things to do and plots to uncover and emotions to stir. And in fact his narrative is generally capable of sustaining this energy. If, on occasion, his grand drama seems to be a tempest in a teapot, well, that's a small (and temporary) price to pay for a highly entertaining read. --Kelly Flynn
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From Publishers Weekly
First-time novelist Macdonald delivers twists and turns with the ease of an old pro in this brainy, exotic suspense thriller. Oxford undergraduate Ben Ashurst is smart but impressionable, and this reputation earns him the opportunity to be a guinea pig in a study his biology professor is directing, funded by a multinational drug company. If Ben and his beautiful new girlfriend, Cara, agree to have tiny experimental emotion-sensors sewed to the back of their heads, they'll be sent on a free beach-resort vacation in Kenya, designed to stimulate their emotions and thoroughly test the sensors. For the first few days, the vacation is all Ben had hoped for. But then a case of food-poisoning, suspicions about Cara, incarceration in the local jail and a possible drug-trafficking frameup make Ben wonder what is going on. It becomes clear that he has not been let in on the full nature of the experiment, and he begins to question who is actually behind it. Tangled in a web of deception, Ben watches as his life falls apart around him, but refuses to go down quietly. Right up to the very end, we are kept guessing: how high are the stakes of the experiment? And who among Ben's friends is involved? Macdonald, a 27-year-old Oxford graduate born in Nairobi, Kenya, convincingly depicts Ben's cliquish, upper-crust partying at Oxford and hedonistic African adventuring. The novel's maze-like plot may take a few turns too many, but straightforward prose and a well-developed protagonist buoy this promising first effort. (Mar.) Forecast: A touch of intellectual macabre, ? la Secret History, gives this thriller a sexy twist. With foreign rights already sold in 14 countries, film rights sold to Heyday Film and a five-city author tour in the offing, the book is poised to score.
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