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FLAWLESS heralds the return of Dr. Nate McCormick, the somewhat
acerbic protagonist of ISOLATION WARD. Joshua Spanogle could have
taken the easy way out, keeping McCormick firmly ensconced in
Atlanta. Instead, the author moves him across the country to the
San Francisco Bay Area, where McCormick’s past embarrassments
collide with his present notoriety to create a whipsmart thriller
that will be as current 10 years from now as it is today.

The events of ISOLATION WARD were a double-edged sword for
McCormick, providing him much fame but little fortune. Seeking work
and hoping for love, he follows Dr. Brooke Michaels, his romantic
interest, to northern California, the scene of one of his greatest
embarrassments. He is not there long before he is contacted by Paul
Murphy, a former friend from medical school who is frantically
asking for help from McCormick due to McCormick’s newfound
reputation as a straight shooter.

Murphy’s request, however, draws McCormick deep into the
belly of cosmetological research and into the circle of the Chinese
triads. McCormick discovers that patients of a clandestine plastic
surgery clinic are experiencing miraculous results, only to
subsequently contract hideous, cancerous tumors that cause
permanent disfigurement --- and worse. The patients are also being
threatened with death if they report the problem or attempt to seek

While not a perfect protagonist, McCormick is a very real one. He
often makes things worse rather than better, even as he doggedly
pursues a trail that leads him to some very unexpected places and
at great personal cost.

Spanogle has created an extremely interesting and complex character
in McCormick. Not entirely likable yet ultimately admirable in
spite of himself, McCormick is a smart guy who is full of heart,
sometimes more than is good for him or for those around him. His
research into Bay Area culture --- particularly that of the triads,
tongs and youth gangs, whose influence extends far beyond San
Francisco’s Chinatown --- is first rate, with Spanogle
providing one of the most understandable explanations of the
complicated interrelationships among the three groups that I can
recall reading.

And while FLAWLESS contains a resolution to the dilemma presented
therein, McCormick’s own personal life is far from resolved
by book’s end, setting up a premise --- not to mention a
demand --- for a follow-up novel. While McCormick may be difficult
to classify, his quirks, strengths and weaknesses undoubtedly will
continue to make Spanogle’s series worth following.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

by Joshua Spanogle

  • Publication Date: August 28, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0385338546
  • ISBN-13: 9780385338547