Scientists and federal agencies desperately try to pinpoint the source of an unknown neurological disease in Hansen’s debut medical thriller.
College professor Dr. Mark Selby reviews a patient’s symptoms on behalf of his former student, Dr. Albert Jackson. The patient, who has a history of Parkinson’s, has a current condition indicative, Jackson believes, of mad cow disease. But when doctors rule out known illnesses for other patients with similar symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Security Agency recruit experts from the college to learn more about the disease. Is it an epidemic or terrorists’ biological attack? Hansen packs the story with an abundance of medical jargon, which may initially baffle readers. For instance, with no context given, Megan of the CDC asks “Have you considered that a protease may have hydrolyzed the native proteins?” Eventually, the medical issues become clearer as theories are eliminated, but frequent debates about the unidentified sickness cause the dialogue to direct the narrative, sometimes to a confusing effect. In one instance, Mark and Al discuss a patient in a viewing room and then, with little action provided, they’re suddenly walking outside with others who have joined the conversation. Although the nature of the viral threat isn’t exactly known, some direct, tangible threats appear: an Iraqi official who may be responsible for the virus; mysterious figures keeping their eyes on doctors; and team members being abducted or assaulted. Throughout the story, lines of dialogue are rarely given new paragraphs, so the novel is filled with lengthy paragraphs consisting of dialogue among multiple characters, making it difficult to determine which character is speaking. Engrossing background stories strengthen a few characters, particularly Mark, whose sordid past includes being suspected of murder and an affair with a student at Harvard, and pathologist Sal Bonea, whose OCD as a schoolboy led teachers to believe he had a learning disability. Elsewhere, Mark’s relationship with Megan falls a bit short; it’s hard to accept his love for her while he’s having sex with Mandy, his boss’ assistant, and is noticeably infatuated with NSA agent Susie Michaels. Hansen rounds out his novel with nosy reporter Walter Pope looking for a big story and the ever-present government agents sweeping college offices for bugs as well as hygiene.
Beyond the arcane terminology and abundant dialogue, modest characters inhabit a rock-solid medical mystery.