THE DANCE CARD by John R. Feegel
Kirkus Star

THE DANCE CARD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the M.D. author of Autopsy and Death Sails the Bay: another strong, grisly thriller--which begins when Twig Stanton, Atlanta's Medical Examiner, looks into the apparent jump-suicide of Dr. George Toll, a Navy pathologist whose corpse is mysteriously grabbed and searched by intruders at the morgue. But dead Dr. Toll is himself the primary hero here, not Dr. Stanton, because most of the book is then turned over to a flashback starting in 1961, the year of the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion. Toll, you see, is the Navy doc recruited by the CIA to cover up the fact that some US armed forces were directly involved in the assault: two dozen American fatalities are retrieved from Cuba, and during a single night of assembly-line autopsies (assisted by a couple of CIA goons), Toll contrives fake, non-combat death certificates for the corpses (e.g., ""I can cut the wounds out, dissect the lungs into mincemeat, and call him a heart attack""). A dirty job well done--but Toll, wisely fearing the ruthlessness of CIA mastermind Fahey, gives himself some life insurance. . . by writing down all the real causes of death on an index card, a ""dance card"" that will be made public if he meets with foul play. Thus begins a decade of slow torture, psychological dueling, and fugitive melodrama--as single-minded Fahey goes all out to get that dance card, which is now (hold onto your stomachs) secreted in Toll's abdomen via self-appendectomy: Fahey has Toll exiled to soul-stripping isolation on far-flung Naval bases; he threatens him with murder. And when Fahey lures Toll to the Dominican Republic, setting him up for grilling by a local torture-doctor, Toll shoots his way out and flees to Haiti, where he finds refuge, work, and love as an incognito lab technician at a missionary jungle hospital. Eventually, however, hoping for a chance to go public and come out of hiding, Toll does sneak back to the US, to a pathologists' convention in Atlanta. . . followed, alas, by Fahey's goons, who half-accidentally kill him. So now, in the last 50 pages, Dr. Stanton's autopsy turns up the dance card--and there are frenetic, bloody showdowns and chases as demonic Fahey (disguised as a priest) goes after Stanton and other assorted innocent bystanders. Plausible? Not really. And the fickle focus--first on Stanton, then on half-unlikable Toll, then Stanton again--limits emotional involvement. But Feegel is a starkly downbeat, grippingly no-nonsense action writer who knows how to texture reliable old formulas with charged backgrounds and persuasive specifics. So suspense readers--at least those who aren't especially squeamish--can expect to be held, chilled, and almost completely satisfied.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Dial