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THE SOCIETY by Michael Palmer

THE SOCIETY

By Michael Palmer

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 2004
ISBN: 0-553-80204-6
Publisher: Bantam

From yeoman of the genre Palmer (The Patient, 2000, etc.): a bracingly earnest albeit credulity-stretching medical thriller about the serial killing of HMO honchos.

Someone, in a very professional manner, is executing the heads of managed-care insurers. Not that anyone is weeping very loudly: They’re a RICO-worthy lot with a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine, lining their bottomless pockets with profits that should have gone for rejected claims. That’s the view of Dr. Will Grant and his colleagues, who have formed the Hippocrates Society (“Will, you’re doing great things for this organization, and don’t think we don’t appreciate it,” notes a fellow member) to put the heart back in medicine. Grant also started a soup kitchen (where he volunteers with his kids) and works hellacious hours at the hospital: “As a physician and as a man, he was the total package,” a hero when not a saint to his patients, former campus radical, lover of his children, doctor of conscience, a touch of the groovster, a hint of a temper. Indeed, to any reader who may actually have a human flaw, Grant is deeply irritating in his total goodness. So when he gets framed for the killing of the HMO execs and for drug abuse, it’s hard to countenance but also hard to sympathize. Likewise with the stereotypically gorgeous and underappreciated state police detective (“You’re a hell of a guy, Will Grant—very brave and a terrific lover, too,” says she) and her super-oafish coworker. Balancing the too-too characters are some enjoyable forays into the art of medicine, an architecturally sound and energetic plot, some sharp scene-setting, a creepily fixating torture scene, and a host of smart ethical questions regarding HMO practices.

Above par, even though its principals are too righteously perfect for believability.