A sprawling thriller about a doctor, his patient, and an ancient, mysterious herbal remedy.
Stachler’s debut novel begins nearly 200 years ago with a story of a seemingly normal military man who’s being stalked by a shadowy presence. The action then leaps forward to the present, where a successful businessman is assassinated after his daily jog. The book again shifts to follow Dr. Jack Connor, a physician in north Florida. When Kelly, the girl of his dreams, walks into his practice, he think it’s simply good luck; however, after he prescribes her a new drug to treat her depression, he’s pulled into a conspiracy that revolves around the drug’s ability to heighten brain activity. It can also trigger a side effect known as “the fifth stage,” a secret that a mysterious organization will kill to protect. Although the beginning of this story lays out many different plot threads, Stachler puts faith in readers’ patience; the story really starts heating up only after the first 100 pages or so. What follows, however, is a tightly wound thriller that explores familiar concepts (secret organizations, corrupt pharmaceutical companies, vivid dreams) in new ways. The novel deftly avoids the political pitfalls of many conspiracy novels and instead spins a tale about unlocking human potential that readers won’t soon forget. In this standout first effort, Stachler manages to stitch together multiple ideas while keeping readers rooting for the main characters. Some readers may even start looking for evidence of “the fifth stage” in their own lives.
An intriguing read that starts out slow but richly rewards patient readers with a fantastical story.