As THE SECOND OPINION by Michael Palmer opens, Petros Sperelakis
is lying in a bed in his own hospital and in a deep coma. He has
been the victim of a hit-and-run driver and is barely holding on to
life. Why would anyone want to kill Dr. Sperelakis? After all, he
is a world-renowned diagnostician and the man who created the
stellar Sperelakis Center for Diagnostic Medicine at Boston’s
Beaumont Clinic, a huge facility that outdistances every other
hospital corporation anywhere on the planet.
Petros is the father of four grown children: Dimitri, the
oldest; twins Selene and Marcos; and his youngest daughter, Thea.
All except Dimitri are well-known doctors in their own right, and
despite family dysfunctions, they understand that they may soon
have to decide what to do about their father’s future.
Readers are told right at the beginning of the story that Dimitri
and Thea each have a form of Asperger’s syndrome.
Unfortunately for Dimitri, his father refused to get him any help
or have him formally diagnosed. Thus he remains an outcast and
recluse holed up in the apartment he keeps in the carriage house on
the family’s large estate. He has an IQ of 180 and is a
computer genius; his talents are so vast that he was asked to help
the hospital create a complicated and secret database for
Thea is the other sibling with Asperger’s. But she
benefited from her mother’s insistance that she get the
proper treatment. With the help of her therapist, Thea has been
able to channel her disability into positive strengths and become a
physician too. She chose to join Doctors Without Borders and take
her brilliance to the Congo, far away from the pressures of daily
stresses in the formal medical community.
Fans of Palmer’s many medical thrillers will be ready for
the number of subplots and the winding labyrinth they lead readers
through. THE SECOND OPINION certainly has its share. But at the
forefront is Thea and her uncanny ability to see things in black
and white. No gray exists in her view of life or the world. For her
it’s the only way she can function. Her years of therapy have
helped her to learn how to focus her thoughts, and her photographic
memory allows her to key into everything she has ever learned or
read. This structure helps her use her energy to make quick medical
decisions and interact with others. She is never able to decode the
nuances of conversation and still has a difficult time knowing if
what she says is offensive or not. These are two of the major
symptoms of Asperger’s.
But it is the “other one,” Dimitri, who has
recreated the attack on their father, and to his eye the
hit-and-run incident was no accident. It couldn’t be. When he
shows Thea his three-dimensional computer representation, she too
sees that her father was a target. The driver never tried to stop,
although he had plenty of time and space to avoid hitting him. Now
what to do? The twins want to let their father just die, without
any medical interference to maintain his life or even waiting until
it’s confirmed that he has no chance of any kind of recovery.
Will they accept that the old man was deliberately targeted for
murder? Or, as usual, will they completely dismiss Dimitri and make
fun of Thea?
Readers first will find themselves taking the side of one pair
and then, after arguing amongst themselves, taking the side of the
other. And since the question of “when to let go of a loved
one” is at the core of the book, they find themselves looking
within and wondering about their own mortality and that of family
members. But because of her special abilities, Thea discovers that
Petros is not unconscious; he is completely paralyzed and unable to
talk, but he can hear everything around him. She creates a safe
atmosphere in which to communicate with him. This leads her into
the morass of ugly undercurrents that flow through the clinic.
In her meanderings through the hospital, Thea meets security
guard Dan Cotton and falls in love with him. Their relationship
blossoms despite the machinations of the perpetrators of one of the
most horrendous medical and financial scams ever to be conceived.
But together they maintain their cool and investigate what they
perceive as wrong or strange. They are both shocked when they
untangle the web of lies and discover who is behind the crimes.
Michael Palmer’s THE SECOND OPINION is fast-paced and
maintains a high level of tension that keeps readers engaged
without getting bogged down in medical jargon or superfluous
asides. In the spirit of the “locked room” mystery,
this novel takes place in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a closed
and small community, populated by a specific number of players. Who
among them is so evil as to pull off the scheme to kill for greed
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011