In Rubin’s (Eating Bull, 2015, etc.) thriller, a medical student’s friends and acquaintances become mysteriously, deathly ill—possibly due to a curse.
American Ben Oris and his Haitian best friend, Laurette, have a great time during a trip to Paris, aside from their excursion into the catacombs. There, 18th-century human bones seem to call to a dazed Ben, so he touches a femur that cuts his hand. Two weeks later, he returns to his internal-medicine clerkship in Philadelphia, despite the fact that his hand isn’t fully healed; meanwhile, Laurette has bloody visions of Ben hurting others. Then Ben’s landlady’s daughter, Kate, with whom he’s had an occasional romantic fling, shows up at the hospital with an assortment of odd symptoms. Soon, other people are sick, as well, and all have links to Ben. Laurette surmises that the illnesses are because of a curse that’s connected to the catacombs bone, and she recommends that Ben get help from some of her family members, who practice Vodou. He’s skeptical of this idea, but then Laurette’s visions correctly predict the arrival of a baby—Ben’s newborn son from a one-night stand. With no medical solution in sight, Ben realizes that he has to embrace unusual methods in order to save others, including his son, from potential danger. Rubin’s novel is a solid medical thriller with a touch of the supernatural. Her sharp prose is rife with medical jargon, but it’s always comprehensible; it’s perfectly clear, for example, that a high eosinophil (white blood cell) count is a bad thing and indicative of sickness. Ben is an appealing protagonist, but the myriad secondary characters shine too, including Laurette; Willy, Ben’s dad; and hard-edged attending physician Taka Smith, who becomes more sympathetic as the story goes on. The explanation of the curse reveals a fairly simple origin, but it’s one that allows a potent final act and a ceremony that could entail a good deal of bloodletting. The story also treats the Vodou religion respectfully; as Laurette says, it’s “not the Hollywood version of voodoo dolls and zombies.”
A tense, perceptive tale of an investigation into a terrifying threat.