James O. Born, best known for his award-winning crime fiction, makes a full turn — complete with a new name and a different subgenre — in the entertaining The Human Disguise. Using the name James O'Neal, Born confidently strolls into science fiction territory.
But O'Neal doesn't stray too far from crime fiction. The Human Disguise has its roots in the traditional police procedural, and no wonder: Born, who lives in Palm Beach County, is a former federal drug agent and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent.
Set "more than 20 years from now," The Human Disguise portrays a bleak future. Three wars have nearly crippled the United States. Manhattan is a wasteland. Global warming has wreaked havoc on Florida's weather. On the plus side, there are no mosquitoes, and there is a wider selection of beer.
Florida is now patrolled by the Unified Police Force, whose dedicated cops are overworked and underpaid. Detective Tom Wilner investigates a terrorist plot that includes his ex-wife and her crime-lord lover. Add to the mix two ancient warring races who have been controlling Earth's power base for centuries. Oh, and an alien invasion seems likely.
O'Neal mixes in vampire lore and a postapocalyptic vision of the world that works well. In a normal situation, no cop would be allowed to head an investigation that included his ex-wife. But all Wilner's boss cares about is that he doesn't put in for overtime.
O'Neal's energetic storytelling is enhanced by wry humor and believable characters, and his respect for the tenets of science fiction and the police procedural uplifts The Human Disguise.
As Born, the author has delivered some fine crime fiction, including the award-winning Escape Clause. As O'Neal, he shows his mettle in a new genre.