A gallery of distinctive supporting characters and lucid, full-bodied prose distinguish the debut novel of former presidential speechwriter Gilder. San Francisco plastic surgeon Jackson Maebry undertakes the emergency treatment of a young woman who has been severely beaten and burned, only to realize that the victim is his lover, Allie. Wanting to stay near her during recovery, Jackson keeps their relationship a secret from both his mentor, imperious chief of surgery Peter Brandt, and police detective Rossi, a black Vietnam vet with a borderline addiction to nasal spray. Allie develops amnesia, complicating the search for her assailant, but eventually Jackson's secret comes out, to his detriment. His concealment of his relationship to Allie makes him a suspect in Rossi's eyes, but quirky attorney Manny Lucasian manages to keep him out of jail. Jackson convinces his former girlfriend, Krista, a nurse, to keep an eye on Allie, but Krista has ulterior motives. He learns some unsettling facts about Allie's past, both distant and recent, and must contend with the unwanted advances of Brandt's alcoholic wife. The story loses steam and focus near the midpoint, but a couple of suspicious deaths speed it to a climax; believable scenes of plastic surgery add an extra layer of chills and interest. The bland and unsympathetic Jackson makes a poor first-person protagonist, but Gilder offers an interesting detour around nearly every corner. Agent, Matt Williams of the Gernert Company.(Nov. 4)
Forecast:Robin Cook fans should appreciate this offering. The creepy cover art, a gleaming scalpel in a surgeon's gloved hand, will stop browsers in their tracks.