Mortal Fear

With the publication of his highly successful first novel, COMA, Robin Cook served notice that a new type of “speculative thriller” was on the scene--one with a medical background. Cook has proved quite adept at serving up new characters and new threats to the health and safety of the nation; MORTAL FEAR is an entertaining addition to his list of tales of modern medicine run amok.

The Good Health Plan Clinic in Boston has the latest in medical technology and the most knowledgeable of physicians--all of which should make it quite successful in the practice of preventive medicine. Unfortunately for the staff and the patients, such is not the case. Patient after patient dies after being examined by the residents in routine physicals which indicate no life-threatening problems. Even more mystifying is the fact that the autopsies reveal that the causes of death are disorders which should have been discovered in the course of the previous examinations. Moreover, the causes of death are not appropriate to the age of the various individuals.

Determined to discover why people are dying so inexplicably and recognizing that someone wishes to kill him as well, Good Health’s chief of medical services, Dr. Jason Howard, races against time to unravel the deadly mystery. In a quest for information that takes him from the seamy streets of Boston’s “Combat Zone” to the banks of the Columbia River, Howard, with the able assistance of a young woman who works as a stripper to finance her graduate studies at Harvard University, escapes one peril after another to unearth an insidious plot to restore the profit margin in the practice of medicine.

This novel is the second that Cook has set in the private clinics and health-maintenance organizations of the rapidly expanding field of for-profit medicine. MORTAL FEAR is also an arresting look at the ethical dilemmas inherent in the practice of genetic engineering. Cook’s characters unfortunately are rather flat, and he continues to produce his works in accord with the formula he established in his first book, which makes the entire story a bit predictable at times. Still, MORTAL FEAR is entertaining, thought-provoking, and informative, making it worth the effort for those who wonder if Mary Shelley was not on to something.