The Delusion, a Wildly Imaginative Conspiracy Thriller by T.O. Paine

The Bottom Line: A wildly imaginative and often exhilarating conspiracy thriller about jealousy, fear and mass deception.

The Delusion opens as Emma Petranova, a thirtysomething psychology researcher, is preparing to attend a prestigious awards banquet. Until now, her life hasn’t gone as she had hoped. Years of toiling under her boss, Dr. D’Angelo Santan has gone publicly unrecognized. All her hopes and dreams seem to rest on the promise of winning an award at the banquet. She’s even been practicing her winning speech. 

But when the big moment comes, Santan hogs the limelight. Worse, he briefly recognizes Emma’s colleague, Wilson Sinclair, but does not even mention Emma by name. Driven to the breaking point with jealousy, the evening ends in an ugly confrontation with Santan, during which she rips the plaque out of his hands. 

And when she comes into the office the following Monday, seemingly ready to quit unless he includes her name in future publications, she finds that the typically reliable Santan isn’t there. Shortly afterwards, she gets a call from the Baltimore Police Department. Stantan has been reported as a missing person. 

The shocking incident threatens to turn her life upside down. Not only has she invested her entire professional career into Stantan’s work, but she may also be a suspect in his disappearance (years earlier, Santan’s wife suspected the two were having an affair). Fortunately, author T.O. Paine isn’t quite done turning the heat up on poor Emma. Her colleague Wilson – with whom she recently also had a work-related altercation – also goes missing.

Is Emma the reliable narrator she appears to be, or is she herself deluded? And what about mysterious technologists Trey and Malcolm? 

Told across multiple timelines, Delusion would be a winning whodunnit even without the theoretical research at the core of the story. But their concept, called ThoughtFluence, which is centered around digital mass persuasion, is fascinating in itself. While the early chapters sparkle with Emma’s red-hot insecurity, jealousy and fear, the second half of the book thoroughly entertains with academic reveals about a culty genius who wants to do the unthinkable in order to “make the world a better place.” Readers will find themselves unable to put The Delusion down as Paine takes the story and its cast of characters into surprising territory and again. 

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