A medical scientist conducts controversial experiments involving human memory and age with disastrous results.
Ten years in the making and an assured departure from the author’s Adirondack Trilogy, Holtzman’s (Forever Wild, 2013, etc.) fourth novel is effectively informed by his former career as a physician and geneticist. The tale opens with the death of Betsy Matthews, an African-American woman who perishes from leukemia as a result of her participation in a clinical trial sponsored by the local esteemed university and a financial backing corporation. The narrative flashes back to when Jason Pearce, the latest young, motivated faculty member of Virginia’s Bates-Bronsted Medical School, became obsessed with bankrolling his reputation for groundbreaking, National Institutes of Health–funded research into “gene regulation.” Personally, Audrey Meacham, an influential (and increasingly pessimistic) member of the collegiate administration, immediately captures his interest both scientifically and romantically. The two are married and have several children while Pearce continues his genetic experimentation. Holtzman cleverly infuses his protagonist with a smooth combination of clinical innovation and energized “path-breaking potential,” yet he also realizes these things require money, which seems to be the initial linchpin of the story. Pearce also exhibits a certain disdain for university politics and the manipulative biotech entities that dangle lucrative incentives above the heads of the medical school’s top scientists. That is, until he receives a timely and tempting offer he cannot refuse: to have his genetic research tied to Alzheimer’s disease fully funded by a venture capitalist firm that believes the scientist could be at the precipice of a groundbreaking discovery in human memory restoration. Once the literary groundwork is laid, the author gets to work amping up the suspense and the danger quotients concerning gene-therapy clinical trial volunteer Matthews, whose eventual fate throws Pearce’s formerly illustrious career and life into a harrowing tailspin of guilt and murderous negligence accusations.
By integrating themes of genetic research, ethical conundrums, unlawful death, and racial discrimination, this multifaceted novel delivers a brisk, riveting tale of greed and clinical malfeasance.