When an unidentified woman shows up on his autopsy table, Medical Examiner Jack Stapleton fears the circumstances of her death might point to a new pandemic in the latest thriller from Robin Cooke (Cure, 2010).
The symptoms were sudden, coming on without warning. The subway ride into Manhatten proved to be Carol Stewart’s last after she collapsed and died from what everyone believed to be a serious case of influenza which had spread into pneumonia, inducing cardiac arrest. In reality, things are much worse, and much more mysterious, than that.
For starters, at the time of her arrival at Bellevue Hospital, Stewart was listed as a Jane Doe after her personal belongings were stolen, leaving doctors with no way to properly ID her. Eventually, it’s Jack who finally makes the positive ID, but things don’t quite add up. According to her medical records — confirmed by her scarred torso — Carol Stewert had recently undergone a heart transplant. And yet, Jack confirms that her DNA matches that of her heart, which is supposedly impossible. Furthermore, there are zero traces of any medicines commonly given to transplant patients, to ensure the host’s immune system doesn’t attack the donor organ tissue, in her body.
It’s a puzzling — impossible — mystery that becomes weirder when others turn up dead with similar medical history to Stewert.
The startling revelation leads Jack to believe that a new pandemic is rearing its ugly head, a theory that is met with extreme caution by those inside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, including his wife, Laurie, who want to avoid spreading panic at all costs. That’s never stopped Jack before, though, and it won’t here either.
As he continues searching for answers, Jack uncovers a sick and twisted black-market enterprise, unmasking businessman Bui Zhao as the man behind the illegal practice of harvesting organs, and carrying out risky medical practices which involve using pig organs in humans after altering the animal’s genes, allowing it to merge with human cells. Zaho, who is also a hospital board member, proves to be a worthy villain — setting up a high-stakes showdown between him and Jack that raises all kinds of questions that are relevant in today’s world of rapidly advancing medicine.
Robin Cook, a doctor himself, is a fine writer. Jack is a fun character who sticks to his guns when under conviction and refuses to be pushed off a case he believes in. His development is spot-on, but there’s a lot about the story itself that is lacking. Like the case Jack is investigating, not everything adds up — and there are very few surprises that readers won’t see coming a mile away. The lack of suspense makes the book feel long, and certain parts are bogged down in order to explain to readers the science behind the DNA-altering plot. That said, when it comes to medical thrillers, Cook’s series is still probably the best thing going, but it could definitely use a shot of adrenaline at some point down the road.
Author: Robin Cook
Series: Jack Stapleton #11
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: December 11, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 5.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.