Half World

Scott O'Connor, Author
Scott O’Connor. Simon & Schuster, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-1659-6
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O’Connor takes one of the more reprehensible chapters in CIA history—the drug-induced MKULTRA mind-control experiments of the 1950s and ’60s—as fodder for his sluggish second novel (after 2011’s Untouchable). In 1956, agency analyst Henry March, professionally stained by his partner’s defection to the Soviets, is relocated from CIA headquarters to San Francisco to help run the project. From behind a two-way mirror in a Telegraph Hill apartment, he observes and takes notes on people who have been lured there by prostitutes and drugged with various mind-altering substances. About a third of the way into the story, the guilt-wracked Henry purposely vanishes, at which point O’Connor jumps ahead 20 years. The narrative finds Henry’s daughter, Hannah, struggling professionally and emotionally in Los Angeles, unaware that CIA assassins have been looking for her father all this time. O’Connor writes with grace and force, but the punch and historical intrigue of this effort evaporates after its disorienting chronological shift. Agent: Yishai Seidman, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Feb.)
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