The Mind Game: A Novel by Hector MacdonaldThe Mind Game: A Novel by Hector Macdonald

The Mind Game: A Novel

byHector Macdonald

Paperback | January 3, 1995

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Cutting-edge science and the logic of game theory combine to form an utterly original, spellbinding novel of suspense.

"First rule of game theory: do whatever produces the optimal final outcome for you."
"I didn't know we were playing a game."
"But of course we are. . . ."

An expert in animal behavior with a brilliant analytical mind, charismatic Oxford professor James Fieldhead needs a willing subject to test a groundbreaking device that may offer the key to understanding human emotions. Encouraged by Cara, his seductive new girlfriend, Ben Ashurst agrees to participate in the study, honored to be part of the first crucial stage of life-changing research. With a luxury resort on a pristine beach in Kenya as the site of the experiment, and Cara along for the ride, it seems a perfect way to spend the winter holiday. Yet beneath the surface of a sunny paradise awaits something cold and ruthless.

As the experiment veers from abstract theory into terrifying reality, Ben finds there is no one he can confide in. Impetuous Cara is intimate one night, then distant the next, forcing Ben to wonder where her true allegiances lie.

Snared in a masterfully crafted labyrinth of cunning, in which each step can lead closer to a solution or deeper into chaos, Ben scrambles to learn why he was chosen for this project. Fieldhead's obsession with game theory suggests a possible course of action. But every time Ben thinks he has discovered the winning move, he finds another level of deception, another betrayal of his trust.

Moving from the sheltered colleges of Oxford to the magnificent landscape of Kenya, The Mind Game is full of intriguing characters and stunning plot twists. Just when you think you have mastered The Mind Game, you might just be mistaken . . . .
Hector Macdonald was born in 1973 in Nairobi, Kenya, then educated at Eton and Oxford. He received his degree in biology from Merton College, and he divides his time between London and Africa. The Mind Game, his first novel, will be published in fourteen countries in 2001.
Title:The Mind Game: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:348 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.86 inShipping dimensions:8.5 × 5.5 × 0.86 inPublished:January 3, 1995Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345482263

ISBN - 13:9780345482266


Read from the Book

RECORDING NO: 4DATE: 15 December  TIME: 7:30 amSITUATION: Coral headland overlooking oceanSENSORY CONTEXT: Visual: magnificent seascape, early morning sun;   Auditory: waves breaking on reef; Olfactory: fresh saltCOGNITIVE CONTEXT: Minimal cognitive activityEMOTIONAL CONTEXT: Happiness, sense of peace, relaxationSOMATIC RESPONSE: NoneFACIAL RESPONSE: Musculature relaxedGLOBAL VIEWPOINT: Optimistic, unconcerned, freeACTION IMPULSE: NoneA Chinese guy once told me that deception is like boiling a frog. Drop it in scalding water and it will leap out immediately. But start cold and it will never notice the rising temperature. You can fool all the people all the time if you do the groundwork slowly. It just takes patience: inching the temperature up, degree by degree, until the victim is cooked.Cara knew how to boil a frog.The first thing I ever heard her say was just one small piece of the groundwork: “I have never stayed with the same guy for more than a week.”How do you answer that?“Hello,” she added, looking up as I walked through the door. A quick smile, almost colluding, crossed her face. It was a finely balanced smile, drawing warmth from chestnut eyes and raising delicate muscles around her cheekbones. None of the others seemed to notice me. Piers’ face, marked in devilish black-white patterns by the flicker of the candle, was fixed on hers. He was desperate to come up with some clever remark. But his creativity failed him and he simply said, “Challenge.”“Aren’t you going to welcome your guest first?”Piers flicked his head round briefly and nodded at me. Irritated at the interruption. Captivated, for sure. “Well?”“True.”The girl leaned across the table and helped herself to two red chips from the pile in front of the host. There was a brief silence. Duncan broke it.“You shouldn’t admit to that kind of thing. I was about to invite you to dinner, but it hardly seems worth it for a mere week.”The girl smiled, her eyes laughing at the joke but acknowledging the serious message behind it. “Maybe I’m just waiting for the right man,” she said.I left my bottle on the drinks trolley and filled a glass from the jug. Piers had been mixing cocktails again. In five years he wouldn’t remember a single one of his tutors, but he’d still be on first-name terms with every off-license manager in Oxford.“Sorry I’m late,” I said, aiming the apology mainly at Jenni. Leaving her alone in this company for an hour was hardly the kindest thing to do to a friend, and her face was already showing the strain. She sat two places away from Piers, holding a half-full glass and a half-empty hand of chips. I recognized the floral print dress from the last time I’d got her invited to a party. It still looked painfully cheap, even tacky in this circle of denims and pullovers. Piers was in black Versace jeans and black polo neck. When he stood up and held out a stack of chips I noticed an unusually strong smell of aftershave.“Thirty quid. Reds are one pound each, blacks are two.”“You’ve got to warn me earlier next time you want to fleece me. I thought we were just going to get drunk.” I tried to make it sound light-hearted.“You’ve got to not care about thirty quid. You’re a big boy now, with a nice big student loan.”I grinned to show I didn’t care and went to sit by Jenni. Her mouth was already set in a defensive grimace. I whispered some hollow assurance and slipped a few chips into the half-empty fist.“Good of you to turn up, darling,” said Sal as she leaned over for a kiss. Always more friendly than the rest, I could never decide if her style was just a subtler form of mental torture. “Have you met Cara? Piers discovered her and now she’s taking us to the cleaners.”I waved at the girl across the table, using the excuse to glance again at the curve of her upper lip, the steep slope of her nose, the long black eyelashes that never seemed to blink. She smiled back, clearly and coolly amused by my interest.“Good. Now you have,” said Piers. “Rules are: unchallenged truth pays one to the pot, unchallenged lie takes the pot.” He pointed to the large heap of chips in a silver ashtray. “Challenger pays two for truth, gets four for lie. OK?”“Sure.” I smiled again to prove my enthusiasm.“Ripper. Your turn.”Ripper drained his glass and got up. He made his statement on the way to the drinks trolley, his back turned. Interesting tactic.“I have personally destroyed forty-eight point three thou of high-performance sports car.” Ripper often spoke like that. I glanced at the new girl. She seemed a couple of years older than the others. I was glad to see she wasn’t impressed by the boast, true or otherwise. Her eyes remained partly on her tapered hands and partly on me, as if she didn’t need to see Ripper’s eyes to know he was lying.“Challenge,” called Charlotte. “I saw that pile of scrap before you totalled it. Can’t have been worth more than twenty.” Ripper finished pouring his drink and walked back to the table. “Twenty-six actually.” He flicked two black chips across. So he’d been going for the swollen pot. Failed tactic.Beside me, Jenni gave a small choke. There wasn’t much I could do to extract her from the mess I’d landed her in. A fresher among finalists. A country girl among urban sharks. Easy prey. I put an arm round her shoulder. A week ago it had seemed like a good idea to introduce her to this set. She needed social roots; they were the central pillar of college life. In my haste to try and get myself accepted, I was blind to their faults. But tonight, something was different. No amount of blindness could disguise the cruel anticipation, the impatience for blood.True or False was not just a poker game to that crowd. Winning or losing meant nothing. The essence of the game was the elaborate, grandiose manner in which the contestants could phrase their claims. And it wasn’t just about boasting. A lie could enhance status even more than a truth, so long as it was sufficiently imaginative. The very fact that the liar was staking money on his opponents’ inability to detect the lie implied it could easily be the truth. When Charlotte claimed to have slept with a Russian prince in Mexico there was real hesitation before someone called her. All were left with the distinct impression that she might have done. Jenni couldn’t begin to penetrate this looking-glass world.“I met the Prince of Wales last summer,” she began bravely. “He came to school in June and congratulated me on being the first Oxford entrant in ten years.”“Challenge,” drawled Alex. “He was sleeping with my mother in June. They were in Barbados.”“It’s true,” stammered Jenni.“Nope, that was his double you met. Been filling in for him a lot recently.”“Don’t call me a liar!” Her nostrils were flared wide in fragile fury.“He’s just teasing,” I said gently, lifting a couple of red chips off Alex’s pile and handing them to her.“It’s true,” she repeated, the sense of injustice flooding her face.It was my turn. The atmosphere was getting aggressive. I needed something new: unthreatening to Jenni but entertaining to the rest. And of course I wanted to win.“My tutor is working on a new sensor that detects neural impulses in the brain. It can measure emotions and he’s asked me to be the guinea pig.”Scalding water. But in this game sometimes you want the frog to leap out.“Challenge!” yelled everyone immediately. Perfect.“Challenge,” repeated Piers. “I’m host, so I said it first. Even your tutor’s not that crazy. Pay up.”“True,” I said. “You pay up.”Piers looked incredulous. “What kind of idiots do you think we are? It’s obviously bullshit.”I shook my head.“OK. We’ll vote. Who thinks Ben is lying?”I laughed. “What is this? Lie detection by democracy? A jury?”But Piers ignored me and stared at the others. I could feel Jenni’s loyalty struggling with her honesty. Around us every arm went up. Except Cara’s. I looked at her in surprise.“You lose. I declare you a liar and claim an extra fifty per cent as penalty,” said Piers. He reached across to seize his prize.I was six pounds poorer. Justice had lost. But Jenni was safely forgotten for another round.She had arrived in college two months earlier and something about her had struck a chord. Perhaps it was that sense of isolation. Or perhaps the cautious uncertainty with which she watched the swaggering, hearty student committee welcome the freshers. Whatever the link, when I drove past her in the street and saw the listless pace of her steps I stopped without thinking and offered her a lift. She had been walking back to college, she said. At that speed, you’ll never get there, I said. At first she laughed with me, then suddenly she started crying. I never found out why.Her room was no different from any other. A few photos of favourite pets by the bed. A small stereo. A line of empty folders, waiting to be filled with the wisdom of her professors. She dipped one teabag into two mugs and told me her life story. I didn’t ask for it, but then there wasn’t much to tell, so it felt like casual conversation. Life in the slow lane. A farm in Norfolk. And now? Well, of course, this is where it all took off. Now she had this incredible opportunity. And she was going to make sure she used it to the full. A first in engineering, an athletics blue, and then the world. It was that simple. Sounds ambitious, I said. Lots of hard work. Exactly, she said. And that, together with the sharp, quiet humour, is what I liked about her. Straightforward honesty. But it was an attribute that was doing her no favours in the present company.I looked up as I heard my name. Everyone was laughing. “What?”“And you can’t say anything,” said Piers.“About what? I missed it.”“He says you’re impotent,” laughed Charlotte. “And that he’s seen it for himself.”“That’s funny?”“Of course,” she grinned. “Absolutely.”Through the laughter, Cara’s voice was calm. “Challenge,” she said.“Really?” said Piers. “You know our friend so well already?”Cara ignored the question. “I’ll double the stakes and bet, with the chemicals you’ve probably got in your bloodstream, you have a harder time getting it up than him.”There was an amused silence. Piers raised his eyebrows and tried to look shocked. “You expect me to admit that?”“Unless you’re willing to prove otherwise, I expect you to pay double.”“I think we’ll spare the guests.” Laughing, in a weak attempt at self-recovery, he passed her four black chips. “You’re a little too good at this.”Cara nodded. She had been winning consistently. But she had also been laying the groundwork, heating the water. Each of her statements had been tailored to construct a certain impression of reality, a particular image of the girl no one knew. Now the pan was at boiling point. She leaned back in her chair and fixed her eyes on Piers.