As I read the last few words and closed this book, my heart was racing and my pulse was pounding. I just had to sit there for a moment and reflect on the many issues that were presented in this fascinating tale. Not only does Michael Palmer write well-plotted stories, he builds them around real medical issues, health problems, or controversial ethical questions. In THE LAST SURGEON, the reader learns about the disorder known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and how it specifically affects the lives of those returning from war.
Not only do many regard PTSD as a phony malady, many veterans have difficulty getting their benefits because of the misunderstood diagnosis. Dr. Nick Garrity is under the curse of this often debilitating disease. He has spent years in therapy and has finally gotten healthy enough to volunteer his medical skills with Helping Hands, a mobile medical RV that serves the homeless and indigent. Yet he struggles every day with his ever-present memories. When he meets Jillian Coates and they begin working together, his hope for recovery is encouraged and we have to admire his character and determination.
In contrast to the admirable Dr. Garrity is Franz Koller, who is probably the most diabolical mass murderer ever. He works for a person/group known only as “Jericho,” and his assignments take him all over the country to set up “non-kills” --- murders that are cleverly made to look like accidents or suicides. He finds his work irresistible and has lost track of how many murders he has committed. The pattern of his kills has never been discovered --- until now. And, as Nick and Jillan begin to uncover clues, they come closer and closer to becoming his next victims.
Palmer surrounds his protagonists with memorable characters --- some as likable as Nick and Jillian, others as despicable as Franz Koller. Among the former would be Nick’s friends, Junie and Sam Wright. Junie is a nurse who keeps the Helping Hands outreach afloat and, with Sam, has fostered many needy children over the years. Among the latter would be Phillip MacCandliss, a Veteran’s Administration bureaucrat who delights in denying benefits to veterans suffering from PTSD.
THE LAST SURGEON is brilliantly written and will keep you guessing until the author is good and ready to reveal the surprising conclusions. Michael Palmer has been writing bestsellers since 1994, and if you have never read one, THE LAST SURGEON would be a good place to start. The action that kicks off on page one never stops until the heart-pounding conclusion is reached.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on December 30, 2010