Thriller fans may be familiar already with Daniel Palmer through his short stories, which have served to whet appetites for an extended work from him. Readers who pick up DELIRIOUS, his debut novel, will find that their wait has been well worth it. It’s a complex, multi-faceted book, driven in equal parts by its characters and plots, a fast-paced read from beginning to end.
When setting his vocational course, Palmer did not immediately gravitate toward literature. He was one of the pioneering forces in e-commerce, building websites for any number of products and companies that have become household names. At the same time, he has nurtured his cultural creativity by writing and recording a number of songs that ultimately have been licensed for commercial use. His background in music and Internet technology are both brought to bear quite extensively in DELIRIOUS, which focuses on Charlie Giles, an extremely bright techno wunderkind who is either ruthless or driven, or somewhere in between. Giles is on top of the world, what with his company, Magellan, having been purchased for major dollars by tech giant SoluCent for the purpose of developing, manufacturing and marketing InVision, a multimedia, multitasking device projected to become the next big thing that one simply cannot live without.
Giles is soaring at the moment, so it is that his fall from grace, which occurs over the course of just a few days, is all the more sudden and jarring. It begins with an embarrassing management meeting and continues with a number of bizarre episodes that cause him to question his own sanity. Giles has good reason to be concerned, due to the fact that his older brother has had a long and stormy course of battle with emotional and neurological disorders and his father experienced a number of similar problems before deserting his family entirely. The nature of what he’s experiencing --- apparent blackouts, meetings with people who don’t exist, encounters with corpses that disappear, and conversations with voices of people long dead --- would certainly seem to point to an emotional disturbance. All too soon he loses his job, his stature, and his own self-respect. Worst of all, he’s finding notes in his own handwriting that he does not recall composing, but that include death lists of people against whom he has a particular grudge.
Among the few people who Giles can trust include a hard-drinking FBI agent; a psychologist who is torn between her professional duties and her personal feelings for him; and his brother, Joe, who he has considered all too long to be an impediment to his success. It soon appears, though, that Giles is beyond help. Wanted by the police and confronted with irrefutable evidence that he’s a murderer, Giles soon finds himself with almost nowhere to turn, even as he grasps an extremely slim and improbable lifeline, thrown to him by those whom he has trusted the least.
Palmer appears to have the intellectual and literary chops to become the heir apparent to the legacy of Michael Crichton. He paints a convincing and frightening picture of what technology can do for us and to us, while taking side trips into music (fans of “So What?” by Miles Davis will find much to be amused with) and medicine (musicogenic epilepsy, anyone?). All told, DELIRIOUS is an impressive debut by a major talent.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011