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by James Meek

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-16871-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Scientists may have some luck in explaining how our bodies function and malfunction, but who can tell the ways of the heart?

Some 25 years ago, Capt. Greg Shepherd was captured and shot by Northern Irish guerrillas. His death has infected his children’s hearts like a parasite, leading them into the bleaker frontiers of love. Ritchie Shepherd, an aging rock star, has a good family: a wife, Karin, and two children. Yet Ritchie’s moral compass is contaminated, as his affair with a 15-year-old girl testifies. Ritchie’s sister, Bec, is a researcher in Tanzania, who finds her blood colonized by a new parasite, which may hold the key to a malaria vaccine, and which she names after her father. Her rather accidental fiance, Val, is a powerful yet emotionally unbalanced newspaper editor. Realizing that she does not love Val, Bec tries to right the moral ship by returning her engagement ring, but she unwittingly sets in motion a course of betrayal. Val offers Ritchie a devil’s bargain: He can keep his pedophiliac secret if he exposes something just as damaging about Bec. Struggling to find his way out of the moral swamp, Ritchie delves into the past. He begins a documentary on Colum Donobhan, the man who shot his father, a man who may be harboring more secrets about Capt. Shepherd’s death. Grieving that her vaccine for malaria is a failure, Bec returns to London and finds Alex, who has secretly loved her for years. A brilliant cancer researcher, Alex has his own troubles, including his Uncle Harry’s cancer diagnosis. He and Harry have made careers out of explaining how cancer cells behave, but neither of them can predict the consequences of following one's heart.

Richly drawn characters behaving in unexpected ways make Meek’s (We are Now Beginning our Descent, 2008, etc.) latest a gem.