A debut political thriller revolves around a shady health insurance company that richly profits from its customers’ deaths.
Merritt Royce is only 34 years old but she’s already the assistant deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, an ambitious careerist following in the footsteps of her father. She learns from an insurance industry analyst that despite an inhospitable economic climate, Delaware General, a major insurance provider, is mystifyingly profitable. Merritt decides to investigate the sources of the company’s peculiar success, hoping to discover something useful to communicate to other industry players. But her actuary figures reveal that the real cause of Delaware General’s good fortune is that the mortality rate among its policy holders who have life-threatening diseases is seven times higher than those of its competitors. In fact, the company offers its clients an unusual and criminal deal—a paperless arrangement that allows them to choose the timing and circumstances of their own deaths, dignified exits from prolonged suffering and humiliating diminishment. Merritt wants to dig deeper, but her boss, Secretary Donald Vickers, orders her to cool her heels and sweetens the pot by offering her a promotion. He’s an old friend of Delbert Lee Burroughs, the billionaire chairman of Delaware General, who is a powerful figure in Washington, D.C. To complicate matters, Merritt’s new boyfriend, Grant Launder, is a lawyer for Baker and Jensen, the firm that has handled Delaware General’s business for 20 years. Grant’s bosses promise him a leg up at the firm in exchange for spying on Merritt. Russell spent years working for the federal government, and his experience shows—his knowledge of the inner machinations of bureaucratic life is impressive. The plot can get complicated—the story doesn’t want for agencies represented by initialisms—but the writing itself is helpfully lucid. In addition, the author raises provocative questions about the morality of euthanasia as well as the complex nexus formed by the health care industry and its political regulators. Merritt is a memorable heroine: tough but capable of vulnerability; realistically pragmatic yet also guided by ethical principles. Russell thoughtfully fuses political drama with moral philosophy.
An intellectually stimulating novel full of intrigue.