Another implausible thriller I nonetheless felt compelled to keep listening to, despite constantly thinking, "This is not the way actual humans would behave." Two stars instead of one because of that compulsion to find out how everything resolves. Disappointing, since I enjoyed The Wife Between Us, by the same authors.
Jessica Farris is a 28-year old freelance makeup artist living in NYC, struggling to make ends meet while helping her parents care for her younger sister, who at age seven suffered permanent disability from a traumatic brain injury. During a make-up session with a couple of NYU undergraduate girls, Jess catches wind of a psychological study that pays $500/participant, just for completing a series of questionnaires. Unable to resist the lure of that payout, she sneaks her way into the study, "on ethics and morality."
After Jess's three questionnaire sessions, the psychiatrist conducting the study finds something in Jess's responses compelling enough to suspend the study and create a side-study. This side-study involves face-to-face meetings between Jess and the psychiatrist, Dr. Shields, and a series of assignments where Dr. Shields gives Jess instructions on what to say and what to do (under the auspices of testing ethics and morality in real-life situations). Almost immediately, the book strains credulity, and the idea that Dr. Shields is a highly intelligent, intuitive medical and psychiatric professional goes the way of informed attributes.
For the rest of this review, I will put up spoiler tags, because there are a whole lot of specific elements I want to cover.
The entire "study" with Jess comes about because in one of Jess's survey responses, she disclosed that she has one-night stands with men fairly frequently, and she noted that when she'd spotted evidence suggesting a man she'd slept with was not single, she pondered on whether participating in cheating made her a cheater, as well. Dr. Shields is married to a handsome fellow psychiatrist, Thomas Cooper, but they have been separated ever since he admitted to having cheated on her. In his confession, he claimed a woman had seduced him by flirting with him in a bar. He further claimed that no man could have resisted.
The first set-up involves Jess going to a museum where Dr. Shields knows Thomas will be, so the wacky doc can see whether he succumbs to Jess's charms. That experiment goes sideways, because a pedestrian accident out in front of the museum stops Thomas from going in (he is occupied with ensuring the woman is safely brought to the hospital). Without having any idea who he is, Jess gives him her number and asks him to contact her when he knows if the woman is okay, as Jess was one of the people who stopped to help.
Inside, Jess gets into a conversation with a man wearing a leather bomber jacket. When she reports back to Dr. Shields later, the doc mistakenly assumes the jacket wearer is Thomas, but when she slips and refers to him as "the man with the sandy hair," Jess notes that the man she spoke to in the museum had dark brown hair. Dr. Shields realizes this was a different man, and sets up more experiments. Meanwhile, Jess and the kind man from outside the museum hook up and have a one-night stand.
The second experiment has Jess inside a hotel bar flirting with a man who wears a wedding band, as Crazy Doc observes in the shadows. The doc is relieved when she sees the two leave the bar together, because this leads her to conclude that Thomas was right, and that no man could resist being flirted with. Then she is crushed moments later, when Jess texts her to let her know he has rejected her, telling her he's happily married. Now Thomas is surely a lying liar who lies. So.... This allegedly highly intelligent mental-health professional and medical doctor thought she needed this awkward "experiment" to demonstrate whether it's true that no man could have resisted? Wouldn't she already reasonably know that in the given situation, there would be a whole lot of individual variation? This is just stupid.
A later experiment calls for Jess to go up to Thomas (whom Dr. Shields has not identified as her husband) in the same place he's said to have been seduced. Jess is supposed to pretend she thinks she left her phone in the booth where he currently sits, and ask him to call her number to check. She's supposed to "realize" the phone was in her purse the whole time. (This is meant to be a set-up where, having obtained her number, the doc can find out whether he will contact Jess for sexy times.) This experiment goes awry because he and Jess immediately recognize one another, and she makes a quick excuse to leave.
Other ridiculous assignments involve having Jess pretend that women whose numbers Dr. Shields has harvested from her husband's phone have won free makeovers, so that Jess can ask them predetermined questions as Crazy Doc listens on an open cell-phone call, while muted.
Of course, Crazy's husband figures out something is weird, and he and Jess end up putting their heads together about the "experiment." Thomas warns her that she is not safe. A young woman who had also been a very special study experiment had become distraught and committed suicide. (Later it comes out that the young woman had initially been a patient of Thomas's, and that she had actually been the one-night stand.)
Doc Crazy eventually figures out that there is some collusion going on between Jess and Thomas. Thomas, for his part, has assured Jess he will devise a plan to get her out safely. But Doc Crazy uses Evil Genius ploys to show Jess how little control she has of her life. The doc gets Jess fired, sabotages a relationship she's established with a man named Noah, and sends Jess's family on a holiday trip to Florida (so Jess has no excuse to go home to spend Christmas with them).
In the big denouement, Jess has proof that Doc Crazy gave the young woman, April, the meds she used to overdose, after making her feel utterly despondent (thus protecting her husband from getting in trouble for an indiscretion with a patient). So ultimately, Doc Crazy saves him once again by using her husband's Rx pad to write herself a prescription for her own lethal dose.
About that last. Since 2016, New York State has had an eprescribing mandate. Research, authors. With narrow exceptions, all scripts must be done through eprescribing, so no walking into the pharmacy with a paper script for your lethal dose of opioids.
This one is a smaller deal, but Jess narrates that she is from a suburb of Philadelphia. Cool, my parents live in a suburb of Philly. Which one, Jess? Later, readers learn that her family lives in Allentown, PA. NOT a suburb of Philadelphia. I can report this, having lived in Allentown for five years. It's a small city, in its own right, and it is a little over an hour away from Philly. If the authors wanted a suburb of Philly, there are so many to choose from. Glenside, Wyncote, Cheltenham, Elkins Park, Upper Dublin, and on and on. NOT Allentown.
Aside from all that--the book is divided into two narrative perspectives. Jess's chapters are delivered in first-person, present tense. Dr. Shields are in an irritating second-person, where she is addressing Jess as "you" in her handwritten notes. Adding to the irritation, Dr. Shields uses an off-putting passive voice to describe all her own actions. For example, she would never say, "I made restaurant reservations." It would be, "restaurant reservations are made." Imagine this over and over, with direct verbs never used. After Dr. Shields kills herself, there is even a section in the epilogue where Jess imagines how Dr. Shields would describe a final encounter between Jess and Thomas, in the infernal notes. And in the audio, the narrator who does Dr. Shields's sections narrates this flight of fancy, as well.