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DOCTOR LUCIFER

A MEDICAL THRILLER

From the Dr. Mark Lin Medical Thrillers series

A compelling if occasionally sedate thriller.

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In this installment of Lee’s Dr. Mark Lin Medical Thrillers series, the intrepid physician vies with a mysterious computer hacker.

As the story begins, Southern California-based, board-certified internist Dr. Mark Lin arrives for his usual shift at Anaheim’s Ivory Memorial Hospital. Lin is a hospitalist—a doctor who exclusively practices inpatient care—and he’s world-weary about the slow churn of neglectful patients he’s always dealing with (“Sometimes, that’s what my job comes down to: wiping away physical sickness within the morally sick,” he grouses. “Prolonging people’s lives just so they could go back to being a nuisance, a troublemaker, a menace to society”). Though his job can be tedious, Lin is at least grateful that the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed. He and his colleagues are startled by the announcement that in-house company emails are off-limits while the hospital deals with an attack of malware. The offending program, “Lucifer’s Worm,” is crippling computer systems worldwide in a kind of “cyber pandemic” that breaches Ivory Memorial and makes Dr. Lin’s life a nightmare. Patient names and medication orders are switched and falsified as the hacker, nicknamed Doctor Lucifer, fine-tunes his attacks. The hospital’s tech support is outclassed (“the hacker has multiple ways to evade us,” they tell Dr. Lin. “We’re playing digital whack-a-mole”), and the real-world consequences soon involve Dr. Lin in violence as he battles both his own disillusionment (“Patients used to trust doctors,” he complains. “Not anymore. Now they look up medical stuff on the internet, like they want to trap us in a gotcha moment”) and his growing suspicions of one particular colleague.

Lee knowledgeably and very effectively builds up the background tension of his novel, which stems from the frightening extent to which the mechanisms of health care—including medical records, medication orders, and treatment protocols—have become digitized and therefore vulnerable to the kind of cyber-attacks carried out by Doctor Lucifer. Dr. Lin is a dour but involving protagonist; Lee makes him more than sufficiently flawed to elicit readers’ empathy. The specter of Covid-19 (both the stress of the pandemic itself and the lingering bitterness some characters still feel over the government’s management of stimulus checks) is an intriguing element that makes an unexpected return in the narrative as the crisis’ long-term effects on Lin become more and more obvious. (“Covid-19 had kept everyone on their toes, turning healthcare workers like me into mindless drones,” he thinks. “The whole time, I never bothered to deprogram and destress.”) Lin’s eventual centrality to the plot is a bit unlikely, and the book’s pacing is often too sluggish for a narrative with the trappings of a medical thriller. Still, the drama of Lin’s personal redemption is unfailingly involving. “Redemption can occur even with the worst people,” he’s told at one point without believing it. But as the tempo of the story increases, he comes closer and closer to thinking that “perhaps there is such a thing as treatment for disease of humanity.”

A compelling if occasionally sedate thriller.

Pub Date: May 24, 2024

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 315

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2024

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THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

A weird, wild ride.

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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