Name your favorite contemporary bio-issue (medical racism, inequity of health care, the dangers of clinical trials) or sociopolitical issue (leftovers from the Soviet bio-arsenal, mistreatment of Native Americans by the government and manipulation by industry, global corporate environmental Bhopalism). Christofferson (The Protocol, 1999, etc.) shoehorns them all into her latest.
Well-informed and passionate, the author manages to construct a roller-coaster of a plot out of all these things, mostly by virtue of solid characterization, which breaks down, sadly, only at the end—even though every eligible Indian male has chiseled good looks and high cheekbones. Center stage are Dr. Isabel McLain, who has turned her back on her soon-to-be-ex, Dr. Alistair Bott, and her career as a Coffeebeantown ER physician. By hanging out her shingle in a Blackfeet reservation, she hopes to exorcise the ghosts of both her physician father, who spent a year on a rez shortly before her birth, and the sleazy Dr. Bott, a successful cardiologist who found it easier to make money endangering lives by running clinical trials, which are notoriously hard to populate. Fleeing the memories of both men, she runs headlong into Monty Four Bear, lawyer, activist, and professor. Romance, danger, and mystery ensue. After an outbreak of deadly hantavirus on the reservation, Isabel goes toe-to toe-with Monty when she has the opportunity to run a clinical trial for a hantavirus immunization. Little do her sponsors or subjects know that she’s hiding out from her husband and the allegations of her complicity in his trials. But will the hammer she keeps expecting to come down on him ever materialize?
Pare away a few issues, some pages of superfluous detail about medical procedures, a subplot or two (the mad Russian scientist, perhaps), the teepee lust and sentimentality that sinks the end—and Christofferson might have had a fine thriller. Instead, her roller-coaster ends up mired in It’s a Small World.