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Shaw spins a thriller that gives big pharma a convincing, ugly bruising.

Various American regulatory agencies have come under close scrutiny of late, with serious questions raised about whether or not they’re in bed with the subjects they ought to be investigating. Shaw rides these suspicions with glee. In Life Expectancy, he trains his sights on the Food and Drug Administration, and the possibility of political chicanery guiding its agenda, rather than the health and well being of the citizenry. He builds the story slowly, comfortably serving forth players who weave their way into a layered tale where corporate greed, political malfeasance, personal ambition and ethical behavior vie for ascendancy. In this narrative, greed has soundly trumped any Hippocratic oath–medical research serves as a cash cow, not a miracle maker. On the table is a cure for ovarian cancer, and the FDA is squelching its development because it will render maintenance drugs obsolete, thus drawing the curtains on a lucrative industry that trades on peoples’ fears, hopes and bankrolls. The venality of the issue allows Shaw to paint especially ripe characters, with critically flawed heroes, bought-and-paid-for politicos and a bunch of bad guys typically “just over six feet tall, and boasting a full head of sandy blonde hair.” The rough, no-baloney sensibility of the protagonist befits the crude machinations of the drug company he is pitted against, though it also draws attention to the instances where Shaw gets lazy: “Ryan pondered the fickle nature of fate.” Elsewhere, the writing is plain egregious–“Jordan shot Ryan a glance full of innuendo and query.” Fortunately, Ryan is man enough for that broadside, a sympathetic individual with a clever bag of tricks to thwart evildoers. Also fortunate is that this story is not only timely, but smart, chromatic and tartly atmospheric.

This crisp depiction of corporate avarice features tightly controlled action.

Program: Kirkus Indie
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