The Fiction Studio
Trade Paper, 394 pages, $16.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Brian O’Grady’s novel Hybrid is indeed a hybrid: A composite of genres; a medley of motifs. Blending the paranormal with the paranoid, there’s a tossing together of trendy themes. The author generally succeeds at sustaining the suspense, although the narrative is not as polished as it could be. O’Grady manages to keep the multiple metaphorical plates simultaneously spinning: creating a Robin Cook/Michael Crichton-esque thriller laced with extrasensory machinations. It’s not Carrie meets Coma or, more specifically, The Andromeda Strain; although their influences are echoed.
A virulent virus is medically mutated for dastardly purposes. Two individuals who withstood the original strain have residual side effects: They subsequently possess preternatural strength, can invade people’s minds, and get off on ruthless violence. The male survivor of the initial form of the disease is evil. His female counterpart is conflicted, but basically a good soul. When the mutated version of the infection occurs, others are similarly altered: A priest who is morally opposed to any kind of killing, and an Asperger’s suffering coroner who is insulated from emotion and empathy. The peculiarities of the pathologist are extremely well delineated. He is intellectually brilliant, but remains remote from compassionate comprehension.
After alteration by the contagion, the medical examiner has a change of heart and libido. The powerful, virally augmented woman stirs him: “He suddenly wanted to impress her; he was a thirty-seven-year-old man, and she made him feel like the twelve-year-old boy he never was, puffing out his chest as the pretty girl walked by.” The depiction is splendid; showing the transformation of a neurotic nerd into a hapless hero. Now exposed to unlimited emotions through his new found psychic abilities, he is overwhelmed. All the years of sequestering himself from sentiment and sensation are obliterated.
As telekinetics and terrorists rant and rampage, there is collateral damage. When placing children in deadly jeopardy, author O’Grady extracts maximum menace: “The door had swung half way through its arc, and she knew something was very wrong. The very real coppery smell of blood rolled out of the cheap hotel room, and she could see a bare foot. It was a child’s foot, and it was covered in blood.” The passage moves on in intensity; the carnage is highly visceral.
In terms of handling the medical jargon inherent in the plot, O’Grady, a practicing neurosurgeon, has the right credentials. Still, the novel lacks an overall sense of polish. Part of it is due to shoddy editing such as typos and misplaced punctuation. The worst example of poor proof reading is evident when a minor character (a nun whose nose gets broken by one of the villains) goes from being “Sister Janine” to “Sister Mary Francis” three pages later. Granted, the garb is uniform; but that is no excuse. The story’s scope is large, and at times gets rather unwieldy. It could use a bit of refining.
The negative aspects of Hybrid are trumped by its strong suits: Mostly fine characterization, ardent attention to atmosphere, and a wise knowledge of how to tweak formulaic fiction. Brian O’Grady shuffles the deck with various genres, and deals quite well.