When it comes to inventive plots for medical thrillers nobody does it better than Michael Palmer. He proves it again with his latest novel A Heartbeat Away. In this book a virus is let loose at the "State of the Union" address which exposes most of the political leaders in the United States to a possibly horrible death.
The capitol is quickly sealed and the outside world is kept at bay. The President, who is among those exposed, must rely on an imprisoned terrorist to find a "cure" before all inside the capitol die. Now there's a plot to get your heart racing and your eyes busy scanning the pages.
What makes it even better is there is a war going on inside the building between President James Allaire and the Speaker of the House Ursula Ellis. She was his opponent in the last Presidential campaign and is already making plans to challenge him again. She is not fully aware of what the smoke filled vapors that were released mean but she thinks she can use them to her advantage.
On the outside Griffin Rhodes has been taken from his prison cell and transported to a place where he is interviewed by Allaire's representatives. Rhodes was one of the pioneers in the work on WRX3883, a chemical compound that produces fatal results. In his final days on the project he was accused of sneaking some canisters of the "disease" out of the lab and was thrown into prison. Now he is being asked to search for an anti-virus which will save the nation.
This premise is explosive and compelling and grabs the readers from the very first page. It takes a brilliant mind to get a plot like this going and to cover all the possibilities in the story. Michael Palmer has the intelligence and the know how to do it and do it with complete assurance. The claustrophobia inside the capitol building as well as the desperation driving the scientists are all spelled out in such detail that the readers live these experiences.
This story evolves like a runaway train with major hurdles occurring often as the plot hurtles to its conclusion. Only in the final chapter does Palmer stumble. It is an "add-on" intended to be a "wrap." These "wraps" usually finish off the book's plot points but in this case the ending is silly and minimizes all that has occurred previously.
My advice is just skip the last chapter. It isn't necessary to the rest of the story, and your reading enjoyment can be complete without it. Of course this is just a matter of personal preference and reading the last chapter may be something some readers will enjoy and appreciate.
Even with the last chapter I didn't care for, this is still one of the most exciting and readable thrillers of the year. Michael Palmer is an enjoyable writer who knows what his fans enjoy reading. And this time he really delivers!
A Heartbeat Away is published by St Martin's Press. It contains 416 pages and sells for $27.99.
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