The Black Tea Experiments is a short mystery book meant to be read in one sitting or during a short trip. In fact, author Ray Atkinson calls it a new type of genre — the airplane novel.
Logan Bauer is your regular college student until an incident on campus drastically changes his life. Unbeknowst to himself, he witnesses a murder with his telescope one night, something that leads to very dangerous consequences. For one thing, his girlfriend is accused of the crime and in order to help her Logan is forced to go on a journey to the former Soviet Union in search of an infamous scientist named Dr. Vladimir Rostov, who's supposed to have worked on a top-secret medical project called the Black Tea Experiments. Supposedly, these experiments involved the use of a mind-enhancing drug on children as a way of increasing the intelligence and mental ability of future Soviet generations.
Despite the intriguing premise and suspense, and the fact that Atkinson's love for storytelling comes through the pages, I had trouble connecting with the story and characters for several reasons. First, the novel begins like a synopsis with the narrator telling the reader the whole story, leaving nothing to wonder about. Thereafter the author — still in line with his tendency to tell too much and over-explaining — often stops the action to give long descriptive passages about things pertaining to the characters that have no bearing upon the plot. In addition, some of the characters' actions and motivations don't seem credible, as with the Assistant Coroner and his unprofessional withholding of important information from the authorities.
To be fair, though, I have to say that while The Black Tea Experiments' lack of a good editor cost it its full potential, it did get a lot better towards an ending imbued with a clever, imaginative twist. Speaking of cost: $18 for a 142-page paperback? That last-ditch twist wasn't that clever or imaginative…