With their reputation for rolling up hefty profits while doling out penny-pinching care, HMOs have emerged as a favorite villain of crime writers. Lescroart gets in his licks with this scalpel-sharp thriller, the ninth in the Dismas Hardy line. This time around, the San Francisco attorney finds himself representing Dr. Eric Kensing, who stands accused of murdering his boss, Tim Markham, the CEO of the Parnassus Medical Group, a struggling HMO providing health services to all the city's employees. An autopsy shows that Markham, hospitalized in critical condition following a hit-and-run, died not of his injuries but of a potassium overdose. It doesn't look good for Kensing. Not only was he the doctor on duty, but he had plenty of motive; his wife was having an affair with Markham. As police investigators, led once again by Lt. Abe Glitsky, home in on Kensing, the case veers in another direction. The police discover that Markham is actually the 12th person to have been killed recently while under Parnassus's care. And Kensing can't be blamed for all of them. The investigation leads police and Hardy to a multitude of suspects, most connected to Parnassus's zeal for ruthless cost cutting. Burdened at times by Hardy's musings and a few awkwardly placed clues, Lescroart's latest featuring the cunning, self-effacing attorney and dedicated family man is still a skillfully researched and executed piece of work. The author wisely steers clear of taking cheap shots at the HMO industry, yet manages to direct a sharp beam into some of its darker crevices. Fans of the popular series should know that there are no courtroom scenes, unusual for the trial-prone Hardy, but Lescroart manages to squeeze in almost every member of his usual large and always entertaining cast. (Feb. 4)
Forecast:The reliably excellent Lescroart carries on, delivering yet another winner. A massive ad/promo campaign—including the simultaneous release of the paperback edition of The Hearing, a 10-city author tour and a one-day laydown—should swell the already well-populated ranks of his fans.