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Book Review: The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer

# Genre: Thriller, Mystery
# Hardcover: 384 pages
# Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
# Publication Date: February 16, 2010
# ISBN-10: 031258749X
# ISBN-13: 978-0312587499
# Author Website: Michael Palmer

In Michael Palmer’s latest medical thriller, The Last Surgeon a former army surgeon suffering from PTSD named Nick Garrity (aka Nick Fury) and Gillian Coates, a smart and sassy nurse, must team up to find the surgeon’s missing army buddy and solve the mystery behind the disappearance of Gillian’s sister, also a nurse. What they find is much greater than the sum of its parts, and a political powerhouse could find himself at the end of his burgeoning career. Interwoven into the plot, unlike other Palmer novels, is the perspective of the hired killer whose specialty of the “non-kill” forces Garrity and Coates to work independently of the law.

Palmer thrusts the reader right into the action of the story and never lets you go. The very first scene in the novel is of the “non-kill” that really sets Gillian on the trail to discovering a government cover-up, that if true, would be akin to Watergate.

Three perspectives drive the plot. Nick Garrity wanted to find the man who once saved his life, but who fell into a drunken homelessness and eventual disappearance. Gillian wants to find out who murdered her sister (a fact known to the reader, though the why is not so obvious) even though everyone believes she was a suicide. And there is Koller, the cold-blooded killer and deviant whose psychopathy trends differently from the standard serial killer.

The story is a very fast-paced read, rarely letting up as scene after scene is tension-filled, though Palmer is conscientious enough to ensure that his characters stop to sleep, eat and shower, giving the reader a mental and emotional break from the rising action. This is not a 24 type scenario, where the characters perform inhuman and near-impossible feats in such a short span of time. Garrity, too, must deal with his PTSD, and that is vitality draining condition. The extreme tiredness and irritability that accompanies such a condition makes Garrity’s attitude and physical feats all the more impressive. Through the lens of the story, a layperson may learn quite a bit about this increasingly common condition. I found myself having more respect for the difficulties former soldiers face when the return and must reacclimatize to a less-structured society. Though the story is meant as entertainment, it uses the characters to teach little about how one segment of the human population must deal with a life-altering condition that some individuals downplay because there are no physical scars.

There are some plot holes in the story though. Garrity’s confrontation with Koller is one example. I wonder why Garrity does not kill Koller when given the chance? Not doing so creates more suffering, and for a soldier, even a doctor, it makes no sense not to take out a threat when the opportunity presents itself. But it does make for some good action sequences later, including a rain-soaked gully run and more evidence of Koller’s evil.

As to the mystery, Palmer does a fairly good job of keeping the reader enough on their toes that solving the mystery is not easy. The clues are there if the reader will reach out and grasp them, but the intent of the novel is more to thrill than anything and the mystery is only a part of the puzzle.

The story of The Last Surgeon is more James Patterson than Agatha Christie, and readers who pick up this novel should expect an action-packed and exciting novel that is pure entertainment.