An engrossingly macabre debut novel by St. Louis Post-Dispatch correspondent Hernon (coauthor of Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty, 1991). In the argot of neuropathology, ``kindling'' is a horrific process employing an electric current to sensitize an animal's brain--to the point where it goes into spontaneous seizure and is effectively reprogrammed, permanently modifying certain behavioral patterns (antisocial or otherwise). And thereby hangs the tale spun by Hernon. His hero, John Brook, jumps at the chance to join the elite staff of Dr. Robert Hartigan's St. Louisbased clinic, celebrated for developing advanced treatments for severe mental illness, including criminal pathologies. The young forensic psychiatrist is also looking forward to renewing old acquaintances with Jenny Malone, a Ph.D. psychologist with whom he had a fling at the University of Chicago. What Brook doesn't at first appreciate is that the unscrupulous Hartigan and his ambitious subordinates are conducting dreadful experiments on the brains of unwilling convicts (supplied by a venal warden at the state penitentiary). Their efforts are underwritten by James Paulus, a wealthy (albeit delusional) conservative who's convinced kindling could solve America's violent-crime problem and put him in the White House. Unfortunately, Hartigan is experiencing grave difficulties in achieving the breakthroughs he has promised, and when two dangerous prisoners driven intermittently mad by their electroshock therapies make a successful break from the clinic, Brook finally realizes something must be done. With the intrepid Malone in tow, the determined shrink pursues Ed Lind, a bank robber he believes could be rehabilitated. Brook gets his man, and the unlikely trio heads for a sanctuary in the Smoky Mountains. Flushed from their refuge by Tom Brody, the clinic's ruthless security chief, and a crew of heavies, they make their last stand atop a forest-fire spotter's tower at the height of a November blizzard in North Carolina's hill country. Robin Cook meets Soldier of Fortune in a gripping (if often over-the-top) thriller chock-full of medico-legal arcana.