Wynne Cantrell sells dreams – not the kind you might think, but actual dreams. Wynne has the ability to record her dreams and then provide them to customers. Her husband Hal Wakeman is a noted sculptor, who unfortunately does not take what Wynne does as art, and often takes her for granted. Late as usual for appointments, when Wynne waits for him at lunch near a fountain he designed, he is not there when a bomb explodes, causing the loss of her hand and the deaths of several people.
At a loss for suspects, the police suspect Hal of the crime, either as some kind of over the top artistic protest, or as a way to get rid of his wife. Things go bad for Hal when Arthur Kellic, a rival for her affections, is assigned as the lead detective on the case. Hal is convicted and faces the punishment of the time, which is having to endure the final thoughts of the victims. He’s later cleared, but too late – he’s already punished – a punishment that the system will not undo.
Playback Effect by Karen A. Wyle is a riveting account that follows Wynne as she copes with her injury and recuperation, Hal and Arthur come to terms with their rivalry over Wynne and find themselves working together to find a vicious killer-kidnapper before the list of victims pile up, and Arthur’s boss, Tertius Shaw, an enigmatic figure who seems to be at the center of all that takes place.
This is a novel that’s impossible to pigeonhole into a genre. The presence of a technology that permits recording and playback of dreams is science fiction, but it’s also a legal/crime thriller. The author, who has an extensive legal background, weaves it seamlessly into the story from start to finish. This is also something of a dystopian novel, in its description of the various uses and, most importantly, the misuses of technology, by those seeking to make money, by government, and by criminal elements – and the disastrous impact all this can have on individuals within society.
Playback Effect has an astonishingly diverse cast of characters, and while Wynne is the main protagonist, the others play roles that are no less important. The author uses third person point of view, and moves from one character to another to keep the suspense level high and the tension as tight as a steel cable on a suspension bridge.
It really has two conclusions – befitting a book of this scope – the first when the mysterious killer is identified and brought to justice, and the second, quite satisfying resolution of Wynne’s personal life.
Dialogue, descriptions, and narrative are flawless – not a wasted word anywhere. This is a book that will linger in your thoughts long after you’ve stopped reading – and are likely to invade your dreams. I give it a resounding five stars.