Wednesday, January 2, 2013

REVIEW: Trial #1322 / Ryan Butcher

TITLE: Trial #1322
AUTHOR: Ryan Butcher
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)

Recommended for readers seeking frightening psychological thrillers


Trial #1322 is a claustrophobic tale of three flatmates who participate in a medical trial and find themselves gradually devolving into terrified wrecks. For the most part, this book is a drama about the characters’ interactions and each one’s personal thoughts and inner turmoil. As their minds fly apart under the influence of the drugs, the book becomes more akin to horror.

Trial #1322 spends the first half to two-thirds of the novel setting up the character interactions, and is relatively slow-paced. Once the characters start unraveling in the second half/last third, the pace picks up considerably, making a mad sprint for the end.

Third person omniscient. Trial #1322 rotates between the perspectives of the main characters with the same section, sometimes within the same paragraph, thereby revealing how each character perceives the scene.

Laura, Natalie, and Jason—who is dating Natalie—are broke flatmates who are offered a handsome payment to participate in a medical trial. Tension arises between them and the other participants, and soon the three start turning on each other. As the trial progresses, emotions boil over, paranoia ensues, and perceptions of reality unravel until no one is certain what’s real and what’s imagined anymore.

As far as the plot goes, Trial #1322 is a pretty straightforward medical thriller: a seemingly humdrum medical trial devolves into a nightmare for the subjects. The book takes some time getting off the ground, with the majority of the first half being about Jason’s interest in fellow participant Louise, who uncannily resembles his beloved One That Got Away, Natalie’s subsequent jealousy and paranoia, and Laura’s obsession with fellow participant Sarah. It’s not until more than halfway through the novel that the “thrilling” part of this thriller begins.

Once it gets going, Trial #1322 is a suspenseful, claustrophobic read that makes it easy to sympathize with the characters’ fear. Butcher has a talent for describing raw, unfiltered emotions in away that makes his characters understandable if not likable. In fact, while all three main characters come off as self-centered and obnoxious, and Butcher’s writing brings them to life in a way that makes a reader nonetheless feel bad for them. Annoying as she is, it’s hard not to pity Natalie as she watches her boyfriend become increasingly drawn to a stranger. Or to feel for Laura as she pines for Sarah in a classic case of unrequited love. Even Jason, who becomes primarily driven by his libido, is depicted in such a light that one understands where he’s coming from.

Ryan shows off his knack for suspense in the horror-filled latter half of the novel, which turns up the intensity to alarming levels. The characters are subjected to graphic violence seemingly at random, and their latent fears are brought bubbling up to the surface. Dream sequences and psychotic episodes are written in the same manner as the scenes that actually happen, making it difficult for the reader to tell what is real. This is intentional—the characters don’t know what’s real either. Are they being tortured by a sadistic medical staff? Or are the behavioral drugs they’re testing causing terrifying side effects?

My main issue with Trial #1322 is that it raises a lot of interesting questions but fails to answer them by the end. Horror and drama aside, this book had a lot of promising concepts about the clinical trial—what the participants are meant to go through, what the medical staff is seeking, etc. Unfortunately, these concepts aren’t realized to their full potential, and a lot of loose ends are left dangling.

Aside from the slow start and unanswered questions, Trial #1322 is a great addition to the thriller genre. Butcher is a gifted writer with fascinating ideas, a powerful flair for descriptions, and the skills to draw a reader in, making him or her experience the characters’ heightened emotions and fall into their disturbing world.

This book contains some small errors, but nothing too distracting.

Head's up to American readers: this novel uses British conventions.

There is a lot of profanity, sex, and violence, including a rape scene, which some readers may find disturbing.

Ryan Butcher is a British author. Trial #1322 is his debut novel.

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