Frank Huyler, Author . Holt $24 (301p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7330-0

Chilling, subdued and scalpel sharp, this debut novel by the physician author of The Blood of Strangers (1999)—a highly acclaimed collection of starkly realistic short stories set in the world of medicine—explores the hazy borderlines of sin and disease. Just out of training, 35-year-old Michael Grant is in his seventh month of practice with an established internist in a medium-sized North Carolina city when the young granddaughter of an African-American minister dies in his care. Because he thinks he might have been less than thorough in handling the case, he agrees to honor the minister's request to examine his son—the dead girl's father—who is also ailing. The exam reveals a curious white tendril-like pattern on the back of the patient's throat and inside his eye. Regrettably, before he has enough lab work to make a diagnosis, the patient quickly worsens and dies in a house fire. When Michael begins to experience similar symptoms and almost dies, too, he is convinced he has encountered an insidious new infectious disease. Unable to convince his colleagues, the disease-ravaged Michael embarks with Nora, his senior partner's daughter, on a quest to identify the nameless scourge. Evidence leads Michael to exhume the body of the elderly minister's granddaughter, and the trail takes them to a remote mountaintop. Deftly plotted and rich with psychological and ethical nuance, this fine debut succeeds equally as medical suspense novel and understated morality play. (Apr. 2)

Forecast: The medical thriller is a well-established genre, but literary novels with medical themes are rarer. Readers who enjoy the essays of Abraham Verghese and Atul Gawande will find Huyler takes a similar tack in fictional form.

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-312-42452-7
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4668-3256-5
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