The Cure by Douglas E. Richards

The CureTitle: The Cure
Douglas E. Richards
17 September 2013
Forge Books
science fiction, thriller
eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

When she was a child, Erin Palmer’s family was brutally murdered by a psychopath. She grew up devoting her life to preventing something like that from happening again. She worked through her trauma so it would not paralyse her. She trained in martial arts so she could defend herself. And she studied psychopathy in order to understand the condition, and stop psychopaths from ever hurting anyone again.

For years she runs tests on them in a medium security prison under the pretence of collecting data for her PhD. In truth, she’s working for Hugh Raborn, a neuroscientist who claims to have found for the cure for psychopathy, but needs Erin to test it to find the exact formula. The thing is, Erin has never actually met Hugh in person, even though she’s betrayed her university, broken the law, and risked her freedom for this scientific endeavour. When she tries to find him to celebrate after finally figuring out the exact formula, she finds out that he lied about his identity.

In addition, an old, misleading quote about her research got her kicked off her prison project and led to unwanted headhunting by shady corporation. Erin ends up on the run from the corporation, as she tries to find out who she was really working for and why. She meets up with Kyle Hansen, another mysterious but seemingly trustworthy man, who reveals that the fate of the world is at stake and the cure was developed for reasons Erin couldn’t even have imagined. But what is the right course of action to take? Erin and Kyle find themselves battling with both moral dilemmas and the people chasing after them.


Plot-wise, this book sounds ok, but what it actually is, is pretty crap. It’s been ages since I read this sort of thing. It’s the kind of book that I used to find lying around the house after my mother bought it at a sale and then forgot about it. A book no one’s heard of with a dull cover but, based on the blurb, it could be an entertaining mystery/thriller/adventure. I’d ignore it until I was bored with nothing else to read in the middle of the school holidays, and probably find it enjoyable in that context. In my limited experience I might not have noticed how The Cure is like a made-for-TV movie with an unknown cast of bad actors. Now, however, it’s the kind of book that I swear and yell at.

Where to begin? Well, one of the first things that struck me was the shamelessly clunky info dumping. For example, while Erin is waiting for a prisoner to fill out a questionnaire, she just so happens to think back on her first conversation with her thesis supervisor. The flashback functions as a narrative device for explaining what her research is all about. That would be ok if it wasn’t such a deeply implausible flashback – about a chapter long and far too detailed for what is only a few minutes of reflection. In addition, Erin intentionally played dumb so that her supervisor explained all sorts of basic things about psychopaths. Erin’s excuse was that she tried to keep the professor talking in order to assess him, but it’s absurd for someone with her research interests and qualifications to pretend to be uninformed about the fundamental characteristics of the people she wants to study. It’s so obviously being done purely for the reader’s benefit.

Similar info dumping occurs frequently, not always in that as-you-know-bob manner, but typically lengthy and unrefined. Mind you, there are plenty of daft and awkward things you’ll just have to put up with to read this. Like the fact that Erin risks everything for a man she’s never met, who offers her a cure that’s virtually impossible to create. W find out how it was possible later, but Erin signed on without that information. Similarly, Raborn contacted her and asked for her help with his world-changing but very dangerous and illegal research based on an interview in a community newspaper (apparently he sensed her passion in the article). In her search for Raborn, Erin goes to a lab where they test products on animals. She gets in very easily, and a lab assistant actually gives her a tour, even explaining what they do to some of the animals (like turning them radioactive). What kind of moron just gives out highly controversial information like that? To someone who could be a journalist? This doesn’t even have any purpose for the story; I think maybe the author – a molecular biologist – is just telling us this stuff because he can.

Other problems include boring characters. Like Erin who is just so blandly perfect. She’s stunningly beautiful:

She had a flawless complexion, a figure a bikini model would envy, and a grace and agility that had arisen from years of training in martial arts and other forms of self- defense. Her hair was a deep chestnut-brown, and glowed with health and vigor, and her features were strong but delicate.

She’s kick-ass. She’s intelligent and highly educated. She worked harder at university than most students are capable of working. Her childhood trauma causes almost no problems for her, because she has learned to control it. When all sorts of dodgy people come after her, she has the skills to fight or escape them. And even though these people are professionals, Erin can outsmart them because – get this – she reads lots of thrillers.

When Kyle Hansen meets her, he just can’t stop saying how beautiful and brilliant and amazing she is (it’s nauseating). He’s some kind of computer expert who only reads sci fi, making him open-minded enough to accept the extraordinary things in this plot, but leaving him a bit short other skills. He keeps emphasising that he’s just a geek, which means he’s super-lucky to be going on the run with a super-hot smart chick like Erin. Cue extremely cheesy romance.

The Cure is so full of shit like this that it actually detracts from any possible plausibility. The plot is based on the idea that the 1% of psychopaths in the human population have a massive detrimental influence on the whole. They cause pain, from breaking their partner’s hearts to starting wars and oppressive regimes.  In fact, they will eventually cause the downfall of the entire human race. Curing that 1% will supposedly save us and make the world a happier place. If this was a completely different book, then sure, I might buy that. But here, it just sounds… dumb. And gets dumber. The author even uses the concept to set up the western world (and America in particular) as an essentially good, compassionate entity that’s being manipulated by evil psychopaths from the Middle East. In fact, this story is taking place in America, and not anywhere else, because no other country could be trusted to take the right course of action. Yes, really.

Now admittedly, and in spite of my overall feelings about this book, there are a few things I liked. All the information about the nature of psychopaths was actually quite interesting and even useful (another recent read featured a major psychopathic character). It’s mostly delivered as if this were an undergrad psychology lecture rather than a novel, but it’s the kind of lecture I would enjoy. A couple of the ethical issues that Erin faces are sort of interesting. And although I thought the book was lame, I somehow found myself curious enough to want to follow the story to the end. Which annoyed me because this is a stupid book and the ending held no surprises anyway.

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