REDDEVIL 4 is proof that while someone may be a renowned, published expert on a particular topic, it doesn’t guarantee that same someone is also a novelist – at least not the first time out. So while this fiction debut from Eric C. Lauthardt benefits from his extensive knowledge of the topic, it also suffers from a clumsy structure and mostly thin-as-paper characters.
The story is set in the year 2053; a time when most people carry tiny implants inside their brains that help them organize their activities, access information, and communicate with each other.
The city of St. Louis is suffering an outbreak of brutal murders. Edwin Krantz, an aging detective, and his partner, Tara Dezner, are assigned to the case. They soon discover that the perpetrators are mostly successful, high-profile citizens with no motive for the killings.
Krantz and Denzer’s investigation eventually leads them to Dr. Hagan Maerici, a renowned neurosurgeon and celebrated pioneer in the field of neuroprosthetics. The killers were all once patients of Dr. Maerici; and their sudden violent behavior may be linked to a secret Maerici has kept hidden for many years.
The premise of computerized brain implants suddenly turning their carriers into murderers is hardly a new idea. It can be traced back at least as far as the late Michael Crichton’s 1972 novel, THE TERMINAL MAN. Leuthardt, however, brings the most contemporary, state-of-the-art research and findings to the topics. So much so that these neuroprosthetics seem like the next and most logical advancement in our dependency upon constant connectivity and smart phone technology.
Sadly, Leuthardt’s medical and technological knowledge is overshadowed by his lack of narrative skills. The plot unfolds in brief chapters that shift between central and incidental characters and events. Dr. Maerici is introduced first, and is then followed by a disorienting avalanche of events that, while sometimes shocking, seem unconnected.
The characters are mostly mouth-pieces whose sole function is to express the exposition and details of the premise and events. They often completely disappear after one or two chapters.
The rare exceptions to this are Dr. Maerici, frustrated that his research into the further development of artificial intelligence is the victim of corporate budget cut-backs and forced to take on additional patients simply to generate more cash. Then there is Detective Krantz, a technophobe who agreed to a neuro-implant out of pressure from his peers, but who secretly longs for the days when he communicated with people via an instrument he held in his hand.
These slight moments of character depths indicate that Leuthardt is not unaware of the traits that create empathy with readers. But for this initial work, he has given priority to the medical and technological intricacies of the plot. They may be fascinating, but they alone are not enough to hold our interest to the resolution.
If Leuthardt produces another novel it will obviously be the result of new insights he’s discovered in his relevant and expanding field of study. Let’s hope that by then his research has also included reading and studying those futuristic science fiction/thriller authors (like the aforementioned Crichton) who mastered the balance of technology with the essential elements of credible story-telling. —Alan Cranis