Mortal Judgments

John A. Peak, Author
John A. Peak, Author Thomas Dunne Books $23.95 (345p) ISBN 978-0-312-19837-4
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An overabundance of detail and a formulaic plot hinder Peak's third novel (after Blood Relations), a legal/medical thriller in which a San Francisco orthopedic surgeon is accused of lethal malpractice. The female founder of a lingerie company dies suddenly while undergoing spinal surgery under the care of Dr. Arnold Jones. Jones turns to Vicki Shea, a former M.D. turned malpractice attorney, to handle the trial, but despite an overwhelming amount of technical evidence that Jones acted both competently and ethically, the surgeon faces a huge financial settlement that threatens his medical career. Using an array of medical experts to examine the forensic evidence, Shea slowly uncovers some damning details about the sex life of the drug-addicted victim, as well as about the operation of the blood machine that may have caused the sudden, massive bleed during the operation. That information leads to the murder of two pathologists who supply their talents to the case, and divorced heroine Shea herself becomes a target for assassins. Unfortunately, Peak focuses so much on the medical and legal details that the narrative never gathers much momentum in the early chapters, although Shea, shouldering her own emotional needs, remains an engaging and often charming protagonist. While the plot eventually gets going at a more sprightly pace, Peak fails to capitalize on the array of interesting possibilities offered by the purported failure of the blood machine. Though he explores some interesting moral quandaries here, the resolution is a disappointment. (Mar.)
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