Thompson’s new novel is equal parts legal thriller, medical ethics conundrum and old-fashioned murder mystery.
Decades after Harry and Alex Monmouth made their debuts in Thompson’s previous novel, Gods and Lesser Men (2014, etc.), they’re once again caught up in controversy and conspiracy. Harry’s hometown of New Hope is in the midst of football fever as a new quarterback shatters records and promises great things for the college’s future. But there are troubling rumors about the team’s academic performance, and the dean calls on Harry to investigate. At the same time, Alex is losing her battle with leukemia, and Harry’s queries about liability and dishonesty take a back seat. But Harry soon meets Dr. Franklin Steiner and realizes there might just be a miracle in store for his wife. Meanwhile, when the people who’ve helped him with the football case start turning up dead, he realizes that New Hope conceals more mysteries than he’d bargained for. Still, Harry jumps at the possibility of life for Alex, despite misgivings about genetic engineering and hints that Steiner’s work may not be all it seems. This is a story about compromise, as Harry explores thin lines between professional obligations to the college and Steiner and the moral realities of the college’s favoritism and Steiner’s methods. Fortunately, while Harry tries to understand how these people and cases are connected, the novel’s prose is startlingly detailed, allowing readers to understand the disparate realms of genetics and college athletics while also painting a vibrant picture of the town and college. Casting this world so clearly may create too slow a pace for some readers, but the details allow the story to remain intact while letting readers draw their own conclusions about the ethical issues at play. The genetic science drifts into sci-fi, which might irk some readers, but later events keep problems real and pressing, making them much more powerful than mere hypotheticals.
A complex, thought-provoking story that defies genre conventions to remind us of difficult questions and tangled answers.