cover image Brain Dead

Brain Dead

Eileen Dreyer. HarperCollins Publishers, $22 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-06-101095-8

Contemporary anxieties about euthanasia and the commercialization of health care propel Dryer's (If Looks Could Kill) well-wrought hardcover debut. Timmie Leary-Parker, a trained forensic and ER nurse, grew up under the shadow of her charming father, Joe, who named her after a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Timmie has just fled a cocaine-addicted husband in L.A. and returned to her hometown of Puckett, Mo., where she's confronted with the task of caring for Joe, now an obstreperous Alzheimer's sufferer who frequently escapes from nursing homes and spouts Yeats to anyone who'll listen. When Billy Mayfield, the abusive ex of Timmie's friend Ellen, dies under suspicious circumstances, Timmie's moved to investigate--particularly when, shortly afterward, gunshots are fired at a crowded horse show. She soon crosses paths with Daniel Murphy, a Pulitzer-winning reporter and drying-out alcoholic who's also fled the big city for Puckett. He's turned up startling information about a sharp increase in the town's death rate. Timmie and Daniel eventually uncover a plot to murder patients in Puckett's elite nursing home, Restcrest--the very place to which Timmie has finally gained Joe admittance. As the deaths and suspects add up, Timmie must confront her own mixed feelings about her difficult father and the value of human life. Dreyer can be very funny; the dialogue has a wisecracking edge. When she tries too hard, however, Timmie's self-conscious gallows humor about sickness and death becomes grating. Still, this medical thriller is refreshing to the extent that it's fueled much more by character than by mechanical surprise and gore . (Aug.) FYI: Dreyer wrote romance novels under the pseudonym Kathleen Korbel.