New release indie book review: Weapon of Choice by Patricia Gussin

Published by rising star indie press Oceanview Publishing; no star rating given for indies

Release date: November 6, 2012

SUMMARY (from the publisher): {Medical thriller; science thriller} Life is good for Dr. Laura Nelson. Her kids have their ups and downs, but seem well adjusted to high school and college; her research project at the university is going well; and she is highly regarded as the chief of surgery at Tampa City Hospital. This sense of tranquility is disrupted when she is drawn into the diagnosis of the first case of HIV/AIDS seen in Tampa. But the challenge of this new disease is dwarfed by the disaster that impacts Laura’s life a few days later. A highly resistant bacterial infection is raging in the surgical intensive care unit, and patients are dying. To make matters worse, Laura’s daughter is exposed to the bacteria and begins to show symptoms. Desperate, Laura calls her young friend, Dr. Stacy Jones, at the CDC in Atlanta. Stacy arrives in Tampa, unaware that a deadly plot is underway in Atlanta as a covert white supremacist cell plans an unthinkable attack on a massive scale. Caught in the middle, Laura and Stacy encounter an opportunity to connect the Tampa nightmare with the impending Atlanta devastation, but can they prevent it?

ScienceThrillers REVIEW: Weapon of Choice is an easy-to-enjoy addition to the hospital-based medical thriller genre, a type of book which seems to be less common lately. Our heroine is a respected thoracic surgeon AND widowed mother of five, Dr. Laura Nelson. In jest I could say this is the least believable part of the story, but author Patricia Gussin does a fine job of conveying Laura’s difficult balancing act, the trade-offs she’s had to make between career and family, and the network of workers and friends upon whom she relies to get through the day.

The story is set in 1985, a year chosen because it was the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Gussin creates a compelling plot line around a patient whom Dr. Nelson diagnoses with this frightening new disease–the first AIDS patient ever at her Florida hospital. Not everyone today remembers the terror and uncertainty that surrounded the “gay man’s disease”, when there was no test for it, no treatment, and no certainty about the mode of transmission. In the fictional hospital in this novel, issues of how to care for the patient, deal with confidentiality, and protect staff are immediate issues for Dr. Nelson.

The plot starts to dilute a bit, however, as some extraordinary coincidences bring together the patient’s father, the father’s former research associate, a white supremacist, and the supremacist’s African-American boss (who also happens to be a dear friend of Dr. Nelson). Two separate plot lines (that do converge in the very end) both involve highly virulent, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococci bacteria generated in laboratories. That two scientists with expertise and access to such germs would simultaneously decide to use them as weapons is a stretch of the imagination. I also found it strange that neither gave much consideration to the germ spreading beyond their intended targets to the wider population.

With regard to action, Weapon of Choice has some fast-moving sequences in the hospital as the characters try to contain the deadly infection; there is also a well-paced climax at the end of the book. In between, however, are fairly long sequences of family life (including mother/teen daughter drama), holiday gatherings, and medical rounds on marginally-relevant characters. Much of this material reinforces the maternal point of view of the Laura Nelson character, but adrenaline-junkie readers will get bored.

From the opening scene, the author establishes her credibility to write medical-themed fiction. As she introduces us to the protagonist, she uses accurate medical language and dialogue as well as proper medical behaviors (from tests ordered to staff interactions). Her knowledge of the science and business of drug development is obvious but never overbearing. Though set in the recent past, Weapon of Choice raises very contemporary concerns about antibiotic resistance, bioweapons, and containment.
5 out of 5 biohazards on my rating scale for technical content and accuracy.

Unusual words: ticokellin; flesh-eating bacteria; lung reduction surgery; Kaposi’s sarcoma; beryllium; Aryan nation

FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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