Alzheimer’s is indeed the cruelest killer in this intriguing medical potboiler.
When a rash of homeless men start showing up in the emergency room with symptoms of Alzheimer’s-like dementia that proceed to fatal heart attacks, New York neurologist Peter Branstead suspects foul play. Bums dropping dead–so what’s new? shrugs the NYPD detective he calls. But Peter, finding traces of an unknown drug in each victim, keeps poking around. More and unlikelier cases turn up: a patient of Peter’s psychotherapist girlfriend Megan; then her receptionist; then Megan herself. Peter’s investigation gets him entangled with a sinister psychiatric clinic, a conspiracy to kill the president of Ukraine and a shadowy hitman called Scorpion. Debut novelist Snider, a neurologist, deploys his medical expertise to good effect. His flair for realistic hospital procedural shines in tense ER-style action scenes–â€œSo you want to give a beta blocker to someone in V fib and no blood pressure on a hunch? You’re crazier than I thought!”–as Peter battles to keep his patients’ hearts from exploding. The medical sleuthing can get a bit arcane (â€œthe first step is demethylation into a physiologically active, 0-desmethyl derivative with an exceedingly long half-life by the 2D6 component”), but, miraculously, it all ends up making sense. Otherwise, the story is standard-issue thriller fare, with helpings of cheesy dialogue–â€œNow, Lone Eagle, feel Scorpion’s sting”–and dubious plot devices, like a poisoned chocolate cake. Still, Snider does a workmanlike job with it. He keeps the narrative moving briskly and sprinkles in piquant characters, including a merrily cynical Kievan cop and Megan’s step-brother Alan, a hustler who develops a talent for mimicking mental disorders to get himself out of jail and into the cushier accommodations of psych wards.
An enjoyable mix of suspense and neuroscience.