A sick teenage girl and her parents struggle to find a reason for her mysterious symptoms, a quest that may fracture their family—or worse.
Palmer (The First Family, 2018, etc.) is the son of doctor and medical thriller author Michael Palmer, who died in 2013. This is the first novel he has published in his name alone after continuing his father’s series. Once a star soccer player, Meghan Gerard is now homebound with vague but persistent ailments—fatigue, headaches, weakness, loss of appetite—for which no doctor seems able to find a cause. Her wealthy, attractive parents are devoted to their only child, but father Carl, a developer, is becoming withdrawn. Mother Becky is so obsessed with her daughter that the book begins with her forcing a taxiing airliner to return to the gate so she can get off because Carl has texted that he’s taken Meghan to the hospital. There’s potential for a family-centered medical thriller here, but it’s undercut by the main characters, who are so unrelievedly unpleasant and angry it’s tough to care what happens to them. The three Gerards treat everyone from doctors to orderlies with consistent rudeness, but they’re just as toxic with each other. Becky, in particular, who is the central character, is so vain, privileged, and manipulative (and has such mommy issues of her own) that when the possibility is raised that she is perpetuating a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy—making her daughter sick secretly in order to get attention for herself—it’s all too easy to believe. Clunky exposition, an overload of medical jargon, and a less than convincing resolution of the mystery leave this thriller on life support.
Despite some interesting twists, this medical thriller falters when it comes to creating characters readers can care about.