Before I review the more typical story elements like characterization and plotting, I want to take a moment and declare that I feel author James O'Neal has been done a disservice by his editor(s). Throughout this novel I kept stumbling over poor syntax, sloppy punctuation, run-on sentences, and even spelling errors. Did no one at Tor read this before it went to press?
Here's a sentence from page 90:
"She pulled her small Fonda pistol named after the actress from the twentieth century and pointed the short barrel of the gas-powered automatic pistol that made a noise like someone coughing, at the door to the office."
Huh? Here's another sentence from page 245:
"The supposedly self-sealing tires not closing the hole as large as the combat knife left in them, so the rubber and polymer tires having just enough tread to screech when the car stopped."
Do these read awkwardly to anyone else but me? On page 99 his narrator notes, "This was gong to be fun." Gong? And it's not the only time it happens; "gong" appears again on page 201. On page 264 the short phrase "were Effected" should clearly have been "were Affected," (caps added), and so on...
Before anyone says I'm being too picky, try to imagine a movie with continuity errors, or repeated sightings of boom mikes, or similar blunders--faults like these would certainly detract from the viewing experience. It certainly did here. And by no means have I exhausted the examples I could display... they're all over the place.
Despite these blemishes, there was much to like about "The Human Disguise." I gave the novel three stars because it moved quickly, the plot was complex and enjoyable, and I was compelled to read on. The characters were not overly deep, but I did feel sympathy for the protagonist.
The sci-fi elements were handled fairly decently, but there were times when I became impatient. While it's no secret that authors like to keep readers in suspense, some of these elements were telegraphed so early that I couldn't help but feel frustrated by how long it took the characters to grasp what I knew chapters earlier.
(As for whether the book had clear parallels to "1984," as the quote on the back of the book states, I don't see it. Again, that's not the author's fault...I mention it here only for the potential customer.)
In terms of the plot, there were times O'Neal tried to pack his novel a bit too densely--the approaching alien ship alluded to throughout the story did little but distract the reader, and was almost entirely absent from the book's second half. It was, in truth, little more than a wild goose.
Still, O'Neal's dystopian future is an interesting one, and O'Neal has some fun with it. In a world fragmented by continual global unrest and terrorism, the police have their hands full, to say the least. As in many other futuristic stories, the police are often stymied by the lack of funds or unwilling civil servants, but making Disney World practically the only place with a functioning DNA lab was a clever ploy. What's more, the very fact that our protagonist survives the multitude of full-on brutal bashings that he does--at the hands of his obviously superior foes--gives him something akin to an Indiana Jones-like charm, and even his practically invulnerable enemies wonder what keeps him going.
"The Human Disguise" has a satisfying conclusion, and it's safe to say the author has left a clear path for a sequel.
Will I read that sequel? Perhaps. Regardless, I certainly hope Mr. O'Neal, who publishes crime thrillers under the name James O. Born, pushes for a little more polish his next time out. His story and his readers deserve it.