cover image THE INQUISITOR


Peter Clement, . . Ballantine, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-345-45780-6

Several patients die each day at St. Paul's Hospital, a sprawling complex in Buffalo, N.Y., that takes on the most high-risk cases, including victims of the SARS virus. A few more deaths a week would hardly even be noticed. But hospital vice-president Dr. Earl Garnet, star of Clement's enjoyable line of medical thrillers, perks up when he hears about a strange circumstance in the hospital's cancer wing: a few days before they died, many of the patients reported out-of-body near-death experiences. Someone, Garnet determines, has been taking cancer patients to the brink of death and tape-recording their observations before briefly bringing them back to life. Suspects include the hospital's chaplain, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who has been lobbying for years to get St. Paul's to relax its policy on withholding pain medication to terminal patients; Monica Yablonsky, the head nurse on the cancer ward whose prickly, unhelpful demeanor makes Garnet wary; and Dr. Steward Deloram, St. Paul's critical care expert who has also done extensive research into near-death experiences. The action in Clement's sixth hospital-based thriller (Mortal Remains , etc.) moves briskly and without an overload of medical jargon. Despite several indistinguishable characters and a few dead-end plot lines—Clement does little with the SARS element after an initial buildup—this entry keeps the author on an ascending trajectory in the genre. Agent, Jay Mandel. (Dec. 28)