Needed: volunteers. With 82,500 words, this medical mystery novel satisfies with plenty of drama, a touch of humor, some sex and violence and a bit of romance. Shea McTory, 31, homeless, volunteers to be locked up for six months for a human nutrition research study. He must learn to deal with nine other volunteers—one a psychopath—and—the good part—meets the love of his life.
While going to the bathroom in the dead of night, Shea McTory witnesses a gurney disappearing into a darkened elevator. Was one of the volunteers lying on it? Is something going on in secret? Something maybe illegal? Maybe even dangerous? Standing at his partly-opened, private door, after rubbing both sleep-starved eyes, he sees the night nurse on her station and everything is quiet again. So, did he see something suspicious, or not? Was he maybe even hallucinating? He has no idea, but what he “thinks” he saw will bother him all night, and later challenge and antagonize him. The conditions he’s living under will prevent any open investigation…any wrong move could even get him kicked out of the study.
Where he’s living could be compared to a Prisoner-of-war camp. Prisoners-of-war live in a place cold and dirty, they eat only what they’re given and their bathroom is likely a pail or can. And they’re locked up. They probably are allowed a little exercise but can go nowhere. I’ve never been a prisoner-of-war, so I don’t know, exactly, what happens, but I can imagine, and I’m pretty sure a prisoner-of-war camp is not a very nice place.
In this novel there are some similarities to a prisoner-of-war camp. Nutrition research volunteers live in a warm and clean facility, and are absolutely locked up. They can go to movies, the mall, bookstores, pretty much whatever, but their every move out in the regular world is chaperoned. No candy, pop, cigarettes, alcohol, and no sex, not even a public water fountain, no anything that people living a normal life can have anytime they want.
Life at MEAL, the Metabolism & Excretion Analysis Laboratory, is not a normal place. Men—volunteers—living there are told what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and definitely how to go to the bathroom. At the end of their meals they’re required to clean their dishes, literally, to lick them clean, so that they get every drop of nutrition measured out for each individual volunteer. There’s lots of free time, but tests like electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, underwater weighing, controlled exercise, et cetera, go on all week. So, it’s not really like a prisoner-of-war camp, and nobody gets tortured or brutalized.
And even though they signed their name and get paid for living under these conditions for up to six months at a time, they still have the option of stopping, of quitting. And that’s the clincher, what makes living at MEAL similar to, but also way different from, a prisoner-of-war camp: any time they can’t take it a moment longer, they can leave.
The real test is emotional: Frustrations build, tempers flare, love affairs, friendships, hatreds, develop.
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