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by Robert Lanza & Nancy Kress

Rating: *****

Gifted Neurosurgeon, Dr. Caroline “Caro” Soames-Watkins falls prey to a hostile online campaign, leaving her few options for employment and mounting financial obligations.

When she is offered a lifeline by her Great-Uncle and Nobel laureate, Samuel Watkins to join the team at his medical research compound in the Cayman Islands, Caro takes the role despite misgivings. What she discovers, learns, and whom she meets there, will cause her to question the very nature of her own reality…

Observer is compelling from the beginning when the reader meets Caro who has been forced to leave her neurosurgery position at Fairleigh Memorial Hospital. Despite the circumstances, she exhibits clear-eyed detachment, logic, and reasoning making her convincing given her profession, if a little cold.

Nonetheless, Observer is a novel that builds layers of intrigue, invitation, and depth to the narrative and the characters. The relationships and dynamics that develop between them are just as important as the theory they work with. The purpose and personalities of some of the cast shift quite radically during the novel but, given the plot, remain credible.

There are strong hints of emotional damage from Caro’s childhood, and the reasons for this are explored as the story progresses. When Trevor Abruzzo, her back-up surgeon on Cayman Brac, enters the narrative, the reader is shown a more introspective side to Caro that exposes her dilemmas and vulnerabilities.

Primarily, I was not too sure about Caro’s sister, Ellen, and her children, Kayla and disabled Angelica. Although from early on Ellen and her issues drive Caro’s decision-making, she seemed a touch unneeded and distracted from Caro, who capably holds the reader’s attention.

However, my view altered as the novel progressed and, in many ways, Ellen becomes relatively central, certainly as the story reaches the halfway point when her family drama takes the plot into a whole new area.

Indeed, the deeply subjective level that Ellen brings to the novel becomes ever more important and, sensibly, provides dilution to, and contrasts against the science fiction as it gathers pace.

Ellen’s is not the only sub-plot, there is romantic diversion, strong commentary on the power of media, both traditional and social, and during the majority of the novel, the narrative reads like a thriller, twisting with intrigue, yet thriving on scientific fact.

There is a disconcerting sense of foreboding, complemented by the Bond-esque setting of the compound and the unnervingly sinister charm of Julian, the tech entrepreneur, whom you feel is hiding something along with a couple of the other compound employees.

Obviously, the science; fiction, fantasy, and fact, is the beating nucleus of the novel. The prose does get quite densely tangled in occasionally evasive and often mind-boggling quantum physics but it never becomes too impenetrable.

The theory is the brainchild of one of the more likable characters, physicist, Dr. George Weigert. Aside from Caro’s, his is the only other close third-person perspective the reader is given. His astute observations provide tantalizing flashes into several characters' true nature and intent.

Weigert’s concept is the focus of discussion at the compound, and cleverly, the authors have used this constant narrative clarification to gently iterate the theory to the reader and render it accessible by providing differing opinions and arguments supporting, opposing, or questioning its validity and ethics. In many ways, the fundamentals are brushed with ambiguity, which benefits Observer as a fictional novel.

Co-authoring Observer was an intelligent, insightful move that has proved to be an excellent marriage for the reader. Lanza and Kress have worked seamlessly to produce a well-rounded and thoroughly readable story from each of their strengths and specialties.

Observer is a compulsive read that poses some infinitely fascinating and cerebral questions, literally, from within the framework of a well-written, polished, and grippingly good novel. Highly recommended.

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