Was It a Rat I Saw?

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The novelty of Sue Perry’s first novel lies in the science at its heart. Tommy Dabrowski is a rock-and-roll guitarist who has had a commissurotomy, or separation of the hemispheres of his brain, as a treatment for epilepsy. Clare Austen is a brain researcher who, at the opening of the novel, is trying to figure out how the two halves of Dabrowski’s brain receive information and communicate with each other.

When Austen’s mentor is murdered in his university office, the research takes on critical importance. Austen believes that Dabrowski can identify the murderer but that the halves of his brain do not know how to reveal what they know. As more murders occur, she begins a series of experiments with Dabrowski, extending work they had already done, trying to force his brain to show what it knows. Most of the work in this novel gets done in a laboratory, something unusual for a mystery. The experiments are described in some detail, enough to be fascinating but not enough to bring the story to a halt.

Though Austen and Dabrowski work at breakneck speed, events move even faster. Both find that their relationships outside the lab are failing and find comfort in each other. Austen’s lover and Dabrowski’s wife, in fact, become suspects in the multiple murders at the university. Threats, from sources both known and unknown, that she must stop her work escalate into violence against Austen. The mystery climaxes in a series of intense scenes in which those responsible for the murders are discovered and apprehended.