The Kindling

Peter Hernon, Author
Peter Hernon, Author William Morrow & Company $24 (0p) ISBN 978-0-688-14298-8
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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Although the jargon that supports it can be thick (""The olfactory bulb, with its hair-cell receptor neurons, had strong limbic connections to the amygdala, septum, even the hypothalamus""), the premise of Hernon's medical thriller is clear. Researchers at the prestigious, well-financed Hartigan clinic in St. Louis are on the verge of reading the brains of ""ASPs, the antisocial personality,"" and may soon be able to control the behavior of violent criminals. They face two problems, however: the process tends to ""kindle"" the criminal mind, causing psychotic episodes among the clinic's inmates; and someone on the staff is helping these inmates to escape. Into this scenario steps young physician John Brook, dazzled by the opportunity to work at the clinic. There, Brook and fellow Hartigan staffer Dr. Jenny Malone, who resume their med-school affair, become involved with Edward Lind, a patient who escapes. The plot turns silly when Brook decides to meet the fugitive Lind (""I owe him that much. He trusted me"") in a dark alley, even though Brook belatedly realizes Lind ""could flip out at any moment and turn on him."" There is mention of a Fundamentalist warden and of a right-wing Texan who provide, respectively, prisoners and money for the experiments. The story winds up with a prolonged, gory climax in the Smoky Mountains during a blizzard. Hernon (Earthly Remains, 1989) paces his action well, but his prose is only serviceable and, as a storyteller, he's no Michael Palmer or Robin Cook. Nor is he, for that matter, a Michael Crichton, who explored the premise of brain research leading to violent behavior with far more panache nearly a quarter century ago, in The Terminal Man. (Sept.)
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