TracFones. Brainwashing. Surveillance. Creep Club. CIA. Parkour. Characters named Dilbert, Humpty, Swarm and Snake. All populate a shadowy world featured in T. L. Hines’ techno-supernatural 386-page hardcover fiction release, The Unseen (Nelson).
The book tells the story of Lucas, an urban nomad who lives in the airspaces and attics of office buildings. He has no past, and his present is formed by searching for emotional “connections” with those on whom he spies. If he feels one, he steals pictures or other artifacts from their cubicles. He eats the stuff the rest of us leave behind in office refrigerators, and works for spare change doing odd jobs…until he is discovered by one of a group of other free-lance surveillance junkies who bill themselves as The Creep Club. This group of voyeurs lurks in office buildings, but also spies in private homes, filming the ugliness they see in order to showcase their scores to the others in the Club. These connections are used to pull Lucas into a labrynth-like sinister plot. Is he just a robotic drone, programmed from his youth to play this exact role in an evil drama – or can truth set him free? (Hmm.)
So, a couple of disclaimers here: I am not a fan of frigid, connection-less protagonists or paranoia-driven plots in fiction. I’m also not a fan of contempo-techno page-turners. The book came to me as a review project, so I waded through it even though my distaste for the genre in general and Lucas in particular tempted me to push it aside after the first couple of chapters. I realize I am not T.L. Hines target audience.
But when I consider the book’s intended readers (my guess: gamer guys under age 40), I can mention some positives of this dark story. The plot has elements of “clever your way out of the death trap” video games and the Bourne movies. Hines does a great job creating a cold, gray, isolated world in which his grim characters act and react. And though Lucas’ inner world is not a particularly welcoming place, I eventually developed some sympathy for him, thanks to Hines’ slow revelation throughout the book about what brought Lucas to the troubling life he was living. And the book snapshots a fragment of the zeitgeist of our time: our culture encourages us to be voyeurs and watchers, not connectors.
One continuing annoyance throughout the book was the name “The Creep Club”. I could not get past the fact that this sounded like something a catty group of fourth-grade girls would call the nerdy boys in their class. I wished Hines could have come up with a less-childish moniker, especially since The Creep Club is core to the book’s plot.
Hines is a good story-teller, and if you enjoy this genre, you’ll probably enjoy The Unseen.