Resistant by Michael Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This final book of Michael Palmer's is one of his best. I've read most of his books, and he grew substantially as an author over the years. In his early books, the medical details were good (of course), but some of the side characters felt a little flat. Also, if the hero was male, there was a good chance that the girlfriend or wife would be one of the villains. Most of the plots revolved around greedy corporations. I think 'The Last Surgeon' and 'Fatal' were probably the best of the early books.
Later, he turned to conspiracies involving political figures, most notably the president. The story was about the doctor to the president, the president as a doctor, etc. In the midst of these was a gem of a book called 'The Second Opinion'. For the first time, the characters were more interesting than the medicine.
'Resistant' blends good characters with a vile plot and the most interesting terrorist group I've seen in a book. The One Hundred Neighbors, all string-pullers and conspirators worthy of a James Bond novel, follow the teachings of Lancaster Hill, a (fictitious) vehement opponent of FDR's social programs who preached resistance to the government. Each chapter opens with a quote from Hill, and the resemblance to Ayn Rand-type 'every man for himself' philosophy is striking.
Hill proposed the One Hundred Neighbors as a group of covert movers and shakers who would bring down the government and its evil social programs. The Neighbors unleash The Doomsday Germ, a nosocomial infection with chameleon properties.
Enter Dr. Lou Welcome, ER doctor and recovering alcoholic. Welcome's life parallels the author's life in some ways, and is probably the character closest to a Mary Sue Palmer has written. He has no problems hitting Welcome hard, though, and shows no special favors.
Cap Duncan, Welcome's AA sponsor, falls during a jog through mountainous terrain and breaks his femur. He is airlifted to the hospital and seems to be on the mend until The Doomsday Germ infects his wound. Welcome begins to investigate ways to fight the infection, and quickly draws UN-welcome attention from The One Hundred Neighbors and the FBI.
One of the government's top researchers into the bug has been kidnapped by a mole in the FBI. Welcome, who has been pointed in some interesting directions from an unlikely-seeming source (a pharm tech with severe spastic cerebral palsy), has been asking questions that are too well-informed not to seem suspicious. Soon, he is on the run from the Neighbors and the authorities.
The kidnapped scientist is being held in a cliffside fortress that, once again, makes one think of a James Bond film or, perhaps, The Eiger Sanction. Naturally, to save his friend Cap, Welcome winds up scaling the cliff with a renegade FBI agent to rescue the scientist (plus his pharm tech buddy, also kidnapped) and stop The Doomsday Germ.
There are a few moments that stretch credulity (my favorite was the six-story cannonball into a swimming pool), but overall the action was enjoyable. What I found more rewarding was the diversity of the supporting cast: the government researcher was a devout Muslim, and Humphrey, the pharm tech with CP, turned out to be far more important to the plot than a mere 'token'.
Palmer also managed to surprise me with one of the mole characters, one that was logical in retrospect but was easy to underestimate. I won't reveal who that was here.
In terms of scientific intrigue, characters, action, and clashing ideologies, I think this book was a real winner.
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