An international thriller explores the impact of counterfeit pharmaceutical smuggling.
In this, her fourth novel, former political scientist Holden draws on her expertise to weave a tale of global intrigue. After a prologue in Nigeria shows the death of Toyosi, a young diabetic girl, the action shifts to New Jersey where Frank Hughes, an art professor, grieves over the AIDS-related death of his lover Earl. Soon Frank too is dead in an apparent suicide. What links these two stories is the possibility that both Toyosi and Earl died from taking counterfeit medication, perhaps supplied by the same global syndicate. Could Frank have been killed because he knew too much? Unraveling this mystery falls to several innocent bystanders, notably the young painter Cece Gardner, Frank’s friend and colleague, and Babatunde Akanbi, Toyosi’s computer-whiz older brother. Although Cece and Babatunde never meet, their diligent work takes them to the heart of the mystery, ultimately placing each in grave danger. While the final quarter of the novel reveals Holden’s skill with action scenes, for the most part she favors suspense over surprise, revealing early on the main villains’ identities and the basic details of their crimes. This mode of exposition poses specific challenges and the narrative sometimes slackens as characters struggle to discover what is, for the reader, old news. Added strain on the plot, especially in the New Jersey scenes, comes from the excessive proliferation of minor characters, mostly as foils for the heroes. What makes this counterpointing unnecessary is the genuine sensitivity with which Holden draws her protagonists. Holden’s academic experience evidently includes minute observation of the culture of academic institutions, and nearly every detail in her portraits of Cece and Frank rings true. Her vivid portrayal of Frank is especially impressive given that it is almost entirely constructed from suggestive details retained in the memories of the character’s surviving friends. By the end of the novel, readers will feel as if they, too, have spent years of collegiality and friendship with this gruff, determined figure. Exploring Frank and Cece’s multifaceted personalities is the novel’s most genuine and compelling mystery.
A topical crime thriller makes up for deficiencies in suspense with sensitive character portraits.