Palmer (Natural Causes, 1994, etc.) scores with an ambitious thriller that pits a schlubby Manhattan physician against his vicious counterpart in a Marathon Manstyle plot loaded with innovative twists. Dr. Harry Corbett is one of a dying breed in the medical community: a general practitioner (and decorated Vietnam vet) fighting for his professional life in a world of flashy specialists. Soon enough, however, his battle to stay alive takes a literal turn when he crosses paths with Anton Perchek, a hired syringe whose specialty is interrogation for the highest bidder. Following his wife Evie's suspicious death, Harry learns that the woman he had been disappointingly married to was leading a shadow existence as an investigative writer. While researching a book about escort services, she inadvertently stumbled across a health- insurance conspiracy known as the Roundtable, whose members sent Perchek to eliminate her (in between murdering big-ticket insurance-policy claimants). Appalled, Harry receives little sympathy as a new widower: He's promptly accused of murder by a rival physician who had been having an affair with Evie. The only person who can clear Harry's name--by proving that Perchek visited Evie's hospital room the night before she was scheduled to undergo brain surgery--is Maura Hughes, an alcoholic whose recollection of events is clouded by the DTs. Gradually, Harry falls in love with Maura (and she sobers up), but he has to balance his new affections against the appearance of a malevolent police detective bent on jailing him and a loose-canon former DEA agent carrying his own vendetta against Dr. Perchek. The DEA man, Ray Santana, becomes important late in the novel, once Harry begins to close in on Perchek and the leader of the Roundtable. Maura is kidnapped, and the stakes increase dramatically even as matters are complicated by Harry's fear that he's about to suffer a heart attack. Extremely vivid characters in souped-up situations. Not brilliant, but never boring.