In Painless, Marty Thornley crafts a horrific tale of a medical trial gone awry.
The novel’s protagonist, Greg Owens, is a construction worker who injured his back badly in a fall. His attempt to manage his chronic pain through the use of illicit medication costs him his marriage. To get his life back on track, he joins a medical trial for a new procedure that promises to eliminate his ongoing pain.
The majority of Painless takes place at a remote facility where Greg joins several other participants in various stages of this trial, which is run by Doctors Menta and Georgia. After several patients have completed the procedure, it becomes clear that its side effects have lethal consequences and that the doctors are not who they appear to be.
Throughout most of the book, Thornley excels in character development. The participants in Menta’s trial are credible and engaging, particularly in their unique battles with a variety of debilitating chronic pain, from migraines to joint discomfort. His lucid and vibrant descriptions of the patients’ struggles capture the reader’s sympathy.
Adding to the novel’s believability, he employs a psychological explanation for the gruesome consequences of this procedure. The patients’ pain, when suppressed physiologically, “manifest[s] emotionally” through symptoms such as “depression, anxiety [and] self-mutilation” to which the characters were already predisposed.
However, Thornley’s work becomes implausible toward the conclusion. The patients’ behavior shifts too quickly from relatively balanced to completely aberrant, making their grisly self-destructive behavior seem incredible. The same holds true for the doctors, who quickly transform from normal (if somewhat arrogant and distant) to sociopathic.
Thornley has crafted a gory thriller, which will entertain horror fans. One could imagine it being successfully reproduced on screen. Better development of the psychotic transformation of his characters toward the climax, however, would make it a more satisfying reading experience overall.
Also available as an ebook.