#43 Crapometer

Title: Perchance to Sleep

Genre: Romantic Suspense

What if you needed to lose forty pounds, but diets didn't work? What if you could fall asleep and not wake again until your body absorbed the extra weight without harm to you? How much would you be willing to pay?

These are the stakes as a woman with a secret past joins forces with an Army officer to locate her missing ex-lover. A hired killer follows their every move.

Sarah Kirk teaches zoology at a Dallas university. Her work is interrupted when the police arrive with news that Dr. Carl Gilman, her former lover, disappeared on the same night his Virginia lab was destroyed by arson. The authorities hope Sarah can direct them to Gilman, who telephoned her the night he vanished. Sarah missed the call and is unable to help.

The arsonist, Larry Dane, later attacks Sarah at home, trying to torture her into revealing Gilman's whereabouts. Sarah, who survived an abusive past that left two of her sisters dead, kills him.

Anxious to find answers, she agrees to help Major Matthew Kendall of Armed Forces Medical Intelligence track down Gilman, a geneticist who was doing DNA research funded by the Army. The trail leads them to a lab at Fort Detrick, outside of Washington, D.C. There, they learn that Gilman faked paperwork to obtain authorization to use specialized equipment.

A search of the Dane's apartment turns up slides that were stolen the night of the fire. The Army does its own examination and discovers one of the slides is from a human with a unique DNA profile. The profile would support the practical application of human hibernation, which has only been a theory until now.

The Army has been studying hibernation because of its enormous potential. If humans could be induced into a state of hibernation, wounded soldiers could be kept alive longer. Long-term space travel might be made possible by hibernation. Commercial applications include putting obese people into hibernation during which they can lose weight. The financial rewards of a breakthrough in hibernation studies suggest an explanation for Gilman's secrecy and disappearance.

Matt and Sarah are not alone in their investigation. A hired assassin nicknamed Fredo is stalking them. His orders are to locate Gilman and his research. Fredo's unnamed but elderly employer's frantic determination to obtain Gilman's work intrigues the assassin, who decides he may be able to profit from the data. Fredo kills two servicemen, stealing their identities, in order to get on the base at Fort Detrick.

Matt and Sarah negotiate their relationship. She learns to trust him, and they become lovers.

Gilman contacts Sarah, promising an explanation. Out of loyalty to him, she doesn't tell Matt. She agrees to meet with Gilman in secret outside an embassy reception.

Fredo follows Sarah but, when Matt interrupts the meet, shoots Gilman. As he dies, Gilman whispers strange words--Hindu Kush and Noshaq. Sarah learns the words refer to a remote mountain region in Afghanistan.

The Afghan connection worries Matt that Gilman might have been working on a biological weapon. Sarah disagrees. When the police find a note scribbled by Gilman, she begins to suspect that the tissue samples come from a race living in the Hindu Kush mountains. Assuming that a remote tribe evolved the capacity to hibernate as a survival mechanism in that frigid climate, she convinces Matt to pursue her theory by locating experts on Afghan tribes.

Matt's commanding officer, Colonel Frederick, is incensed by what he describes as a ridiculous line of inquiry and threatens discipline. Frederick rescinds Sarah's invitation to stay at Fort Detrick and dispatches Matt to follow up on the biological weapon theory.

Nils Sperber, an elderly lobbyist, and his beautiful young wife invite Sarah to become their house guest. Wanting to remain in the Washington area near Matt, Sarah accepts.

Sarah is assaulted by a teenage gang, but is saved by Fredo, who immediately disappears.

She pursues her hibernation theory. She learns that, centuries ago, soldiers in Alexander the Great's army reportedly deserted in the Hindu Kush region. Since that time, there have been fair-skinned people living on Noshaq. This is where the tale of Shangri-La originated.

Sperber invites Sarah and Matt to attend a diplomatic function at the Hay-Adams Hotel. While attending, Sarah is lured outside and kidnapped. She is taken to a laboratory in Bethesda where Matt's commanding officer, Colonel Frederick, confronts her. She learns he arranged for the arson, Gilman's murder and her kidnapping.

Colonel Frederick suffers from Alzheimer's and has been concealing the fact. When the U.S. entered Afghanistan, a team searching the remote mountain caves detonated a bomb, accidentally killing members of a blue-eyed, fair-skinned tribe. During the subsequent investigation, Colonel Frederick learned of local legends that these tribesmen hibernated through the winter. Frederick conceived a desperate plan to be put into a state of hibernation to preserve his life until an Alzheimer's cure can be discovered. He bribed Gilman to conduct studies on tissue samples to determine whether genetic manipulation might provide a viable solution.

Gilman's hunger for commercial profit prompted him to withhold data from Frederick. Gilman tried to contact Sarah, intending to use her zoology background to help locate the tribe. (that connection eludes me...zoology helps you locate people?)

When Frederick discovered Gilman was double-crossing him, he hired Dane, who made two mistakes: he set fire to the lab before securing Gilman, and he lingered to watch his fire. A student saw the blaze and called Gilman with the news. The geneticist realized Frederick was onto him and engineered his own disappearance.

After Sarah killed Dane, Frederick hired Fredo.

Fearful that Sarah was getting close, Frederick had her kidnapped, expecting Matt to follow. He plans to stage a homicide/suicide, using Sarah's violent background to suggest that she killed Matt and herself during a lover's quarrel.

Matt falls into the trap but, before the colonel can kill the lovers, Fredo shoots Frederick and takes off with the samples.

Sarah and Matt decide to marry and to lead a team into the Afghan mountains to locate the tribe.

Pretty snappy action but we get no sense of your voice here. If you have five good pages to lead off, I’d probably read this. The idea of a guy making his dying words a code is a bit um...over used at this point but fixable.

The resolution sounds like an information dump, as though someone explains it all at the end rather than Sarah and Matt figuring things out. I think that's a weakness in a novel.

Other than that, this is good.


ScaramoucheX said...

I like the sound of the work described by this synopsis...it's sounds bizarre and garish and ludicrous, all at the same time...kind of Hunter s. Thompson/Kirstie Ally/Tim Burton thing...I'd like to watch it as a tv miniseries, too...

Stephen said...

It's just a minor quibble, but does the mysterious hibernating tribe have to be "blue-eyed, fair-skinned"? I can understand that they need to be somehow differentiated from the local population but "blue-eyed, fair-skinned" has some uncomfortable historical echoes.

Bernita said...

I'm with Stephen for another reason beside the Aryan myth,I don't think Alexander's army was even largely constructed of blue-eyed, fair-skinned soldiers, but this might be easily explained in the text.

Maya said...

Sorry, guys, I didn't invent it. There is a tribe of long-lived blue-eyed, fair-skinned people living on the Noshaq (which probably prompted James Hilton's LOST HORIZON--the novel about Shangri-La--in the first place).

I did a lot of research for this book. The collision of two types of DNA--the native race and the fairer race would have genetic consequences (natural selection with a dash of genetic drift thrown in for my fictional purposes).

In addition, the Army's interest in hibernation studies is absolutely real. There are also a number of universities doing serious work on hibernation. A news release a year ago on the subject pricked my interest. I then had to find a place somewhere in the world to place a genetic event where two DIFFERENT racial genotypes came together in a hostile environment that would promote natural selection and a genetic sport.

Many much thanks to Miss Snark. I really appreciate the feedback. This exercise has been hugely helpful--as was the First Page event in which I participated last August. Thanks for all the hard work at a time when you could be off shopping at the after-holiday sales.

Bernita said...

My point, Maya, was does the existence of this "race" have to be blamed on Alexander?
I realize that the general public seems unaware most times of the frequency of migrations and movements of people and it's a safe, if cliched allusion, so I'm probably being unfairly picky.

Maya said...

Bernita: This was not an issue of racial arrogance as much as an issue of needing threads for Sarah to follow in her search for answers. She started with collecting every bit of knowledge of the geographic area (including its legends).

A 1,000-word summary probably made the Alexander legend seem more important than it is in the actual manuscript. But, again, the legend regarding Alexander EXISTS as a possible explanation for this odd fair-haired group. I actually called into a NPR interview to talk with a historian who confirmed the legend of the "three lost soldiers of Alexander" that I'd come across. I did not make it up.

Thanks for your concern. I appreciate it.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I wrote my university thesis on the myth of Shangri-La. Hilton's letters specify Shambala, not Nosdaq and place it in Tibet, not Afghanistan. There is a reason that Shambala and Shangri-La sound so much alike.

But not many people have studied up on it, and I'd get caught up in the story myself no matter what mythology is appropriated for the needs of fiction (heck, Hilton did!), so no quibbles here.

Maya said...

Thanks, Diana!

LOST HORIZON does, of course, take place in Tibet, not Afghanistan. There are numerous legends of long-lived people in that part of the world and I co-opted one.