A man plagued by chronic pain turns to an experimental “miracle surgery.”
Thornley’s (The Rabbit, 2018) medical thriller taps into the hopelessness felt when physical pain becomes a psychological nightmare. For Greg Owens, getting out of bed is an arduous and excruciating daily challenge. Ever since he fell from a ladder during a roofing job seven years ago, back pain has been constant, contributing to a divorce, estrangement from his 3-year-old daughter, and diminished capacity as a construction foreman. When a radical experimental treatment at a remote clinic is suggested, Greg decides to investigate the promising possibilities at the facility rather than relying on questionable street drugs. The physician in charge of the trial is the nearly 60-year-old Dr. Dante Menta (fittingly named “Dr. D. Menta”), whose controversial pain-elimination therapy involves the injection of liquid nitrogen into the spinal column. His surgical techniques have incrementally graduated from animals of assorted sizes to the new human trials, which Greg and other patients, all in varying degrees of severe pain, are about to embark on. Once Greg becomes a patient, he is in good company with a ward full of other nosy subjects and a compassionate, motherly nurse named Roberta. She begins to suspect foul play when she discovers some of the treatment’s undesirable effects. Thornley, a software architect–turned-novelist, displays a knack for sustaining a simmering plot and really ratchets things up once the full grisly consequences of Menta’s seemingly foolproof experiment begin to emerge. The doctor’s transformation from creepily concerned advocate into mad-scientist mode with a zombified, pain-free patient roster to contend with is both horrifying and electrifying. Fans of uncomplicated medical thrillers will find much to savor here even if the author, a writer to watch, tends to lay on the graphic, gory details a bit thick. In the dog experiments, the animals run themselves into walls because they feel no pain and are delusional. Menta’s human patients begin pulling out their own fingernails, burning themselves, and gouging out their eyeballs.
A devilishly crafted psychological thriller fusing mad science with desperate people in the grip of physical agony.