Heat Shock

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Carmen Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee fathered by an African American soldier, is a disillusioned doctor practicing emergency medicine in Grand Junction, Colorado, when she agrees to help one of her elderly patients by looking after his chickens. When she investigates the theft of these birds from cages hidden deep in the mountains, however, she initiates a chain reaction of events that leads to multiple murders and endangers her own life and that of her new-found lover.

Using her medical training, Nguyen discovers that the chickens’ unusual strength comes from having a genetically altered protein, a phenomenon attributable to their ancestors’ having been bred in the uranium-rich region of the state. She is not the first to learn the secret, though. Businessman and engineer Jack Kimbrough has recruited a group of Navajos from the same area, ostensibly to test firefighting equipment. Actually, Kimbrough believes these men possess the same genetic mutation, and he is conducting experiments on them to develop a formula that would allow him to create superhumans whose value to rogue nations could make him very rich. To “field test” his theory he must create a catastrophe that would endanger not only these Navajos but thousands in the region. Carmen’s race to foil Kimbrough’s plot makes her a target for his henchman Roland Septian, a hit man with an array of skills and no conscience. Predictably, with a bit of sound deduction, the help of a group of tough Westerners who come to her aid, and a little luck, Nguyen succeeds in her quest.

Robert Greer’s ability to create characters and evoke the feel of Colorado’s western slope make it possible for readers to believe the rather farfetched premise on which Heat Shock is built. The book may be misclassified a mystery, however, since there is never any question about the villain’s crimes or his motives. Nevertheless, Greer is able to build suspense without straining the bonds of credibility, and in a brief novel he manages to make readers care about his main characters. For these reasons, Heat Shock is a novel that will satisfy those who love a good thriller.