Side Effects

by Michael Palmer

(very good; top 50% of SciThri)

Year published: 1985
Category: medical thriller

Tech rating (out of 5):


Talented female pathologist Kate Bennett struggles to balance the demands of her career, her husband’s political ambitions and his desire for a child. Then a bizarre ovary specimen, a healthy woman who bleeds to death, and a powerful but secretive medical institute for women collide and draw her into a web of lies and betrayal. Oh, and the Nazis are involved too…


Physician-author Michael Palmer delivers one of his solid medical thrillers in the 1985 book Side Effects. The protagonist Kate tries to do the right thing, at work and at home, you’ll find yourself rooting for her as her predicaments expand beyond ordinary work/life balance to a plot intended first to discredit her professionally, then destroy her marriage, and ultimately take her life. Kate perseveres with faith in herself and loyalty to the friend who lies dying in the hospital while she takes on the seemingly invincible forces arrayed against her.

Bottom line: Classic Palmer work. A thriller centered on a medical theme but only partially taking place in a hospital and not too heavy on the medical stuff. Satisfying buildup of tension, enough plot complexity to keep you on your toes, traditional villains (big corporations and Nazis, what could be easier to hate?), and a plucky, likeable doctor-heroine. Nice romantic suspense subplot, with the husband. Despite its age, Side Effects doesn’t feel particularly dated. Good choice for fans of medical thrillers.

If you like Michael Palmer you’ll like: Robin Cook

If you like Side Effects you might enjoy: Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell; Lifelines by CJ Lyons

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