A medical thriller laced with political intrigue and personal tragedy might seem just what the doctor ordered for lovers of suspense fiction. But Wilson, a practicing physician who has previously worked controversial issues of modern medical care into taut dramas (Implant, 1995, and The Select, 1993), disappoints with this flaccid melodrama that aims for the heart rather than the throat. Events begin briskly with the kidnapping of Katie VanDuyne, the six-year-old daughter of the U.S. president's personal physician, followed by a deadly ultimatum delivered to her dad: secretly administer a potentially lethal antibiotic to the chief executive or Katie dies. The scheme has been engineered by Colombian drug lord Carlos Salinas (somewhere in Ireland, the former president of Mexico is unlikely to be amused by Wilson's choice of name), who fears that the president's plan to decriminalize and regulate narcotics will cut off his profits. Wilson creates a riveting portrait of John VanDuyne as an anguished father sliding down the slippery slope of rationalization that will justify his poisoning a friend to save his child. But when the blackmail plot unravels and Snake MacLaglen, the mercenary computer hacker hired by Carlos, sets out to destroy incriminating evidence, the novel's focus shifts abruptly to Poppy Mulliner, the proverbial whore with the heart of gold, who transforms from one of Katie's abductors into her guardian angel. Poppy's redemptive maternal instincts crystallize many of the novel's emotional concerns, but her climactic flight with Katie through the New Jersey Pine Barrens with Snake in hot pursuit scatters aside the many questions about government policy, computer crime and private-versus-professional allegiance that the story raises. Diehard Wilson fans will no doubt find this tale to their liking, but other readers may want a second opinion. (Apr.) FYI: In England, Wilson's medical thrillers appear under the pseudonym Colin Andrews.