TUNING IN by Richard H. Roberts


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In Roberts’ debut thriller, the first of a planned trilogy, an empath, who’s helping to develop a telepathy app, realizes that the person funding the project may have a sinister agenda.

Jon Gunnarson is at his aikido dojo when he hears a strange, distracting voice in his head that causes him to lose an important fight. He once had a telepathic connection to his late mother; after she died, he started forming telepathic links with others. Now, he only wants to disconnect from other people’s feelings, which incessantly cloud his head. He tells his aikido sparring partner, a Buddhist nun named Chodak Neema, about the voice; she thinks that she can help him, but she’s leaving that night to go to Bhutan. He can’t afford the trip, so he responds to an ad from a company that’s supposedly developing a meditation app in the South Asian country. Financing the development is Jeffrey Venn, who actually plans on peddling a telepathy app; he’s also currently under FBI investigation for internet fraud. British neuroscientist Ella Sandström is part of Venn’s team; she soon recognizes the harm that a functional telepathy app could cause if released to the general public. Venn, however, is already pushing to release his product on the market, disregarding the risks. His ultimate goal involves a nefarious act—and an app could conceivably hurt, or even kill, millions of people. Roberts delivers a commendable series launch that slowly establishes how its version of telepathy works (and gives it the fresh, chic moniker “tuning in”). There’s minimal action, but this short novel still moves briskly as it carefully molds its characters; Ella, for instance, is shown to be estranged from her teenage daughter, Jady, who blames her mom for her parents’ divorce. The story boasts some espionage as well, and Venn gets more menacing as the narrative progresses. But the book’s most impressive trait is its surprising moments of profundity: While trying to dip into happy people’s positive feelings, Jon sadly learns that most happiness is faked.

Sharp characterizations set the groundwork for future books in this series.

Page count: 132pp
Publisher: HighCrest Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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