reviews of Mysteries

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Doctor/author skillfully weaves science into plot
“Isolation Ward,” by Joshua Spanogle; Delacorte ($22).

Medical thrillers are not a personal favorite of mine. Too often the authors let the science overshadow the character and plot so that the story resembles a textbook rather than a novel.

Which makes Joshua Spanogle’s debut all the more impressive. In “Isolation Ward,” Spanogle expertly weaves in a good deal of science but keeps his main focus on his smart-aleck, very likable hero and a well-developed, engrossing plot.

Still, Spanogle, a Stanford medical student, knows how to add in just enough science to inject credibility and realism.

Those who want sufficient doses of science in their medical thrillers will be pleased; the rest of us can enjoy the story without our eyes glazing over.

As an investigator for the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Nathaniel McCormick is familiar with the bizarre. When three mentally handicapped women in Baltimore develop unusual, and fatal, symptoms, Nate fears that an exotic virus may be being used as bioterrorism. His investigation takes him to San Francisco and San Diego, and back in touch with a mentor and two former lovers as he follows a trail of medical fraud and out-of-control research.

Spanogle propels “Isolation Ward” on a fast track that doesn’t slow down. The author handles each twist like a pro. This is especially true in his shaping of Nate – brash, intelligent, likable and flawed. An indiscretion early in his medical career has left him tarnished and wiser.

Nate’s job with the CDC should provide no shortage of plots. As “Isolation Ward” illustrates, Spanogle should be able to have a dual career – doctor and author.

Kellerman’s ‘Gone’ kicks off rapidly, never slows down
“Gone,” by Jonathan Kellerman; Ballantine Books ($26.95).

There is a certain comfort, not to mention reliability, in Jonathan Kellerman’s thrillers. A permanent resident of the best-sellers lists for nearly two decades, Kellerman seldom disappoints, crafting each novel with a solid story, realistic characters and plots that are just tough enough, but eschew graphic violence.

Kellerman always can be counted on to deliver the goods. It’s a bit like eating at a chain restaurant, but in Kellerman’s case the restaurant is akin to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, not a fast-food joint.

The core of Kellerman’s novels is the buddy relationship between psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturges. The deep friendship, mutual respect and quick banter between Alex, who is straight, and Milo, who is gay, elevate the series.

“Gone,” Kellerman’s 20th novel in this series, starts at an accelerated pace and never slows down, even after the de rigueur twists and double twists.

A young couple’s claim that they were kidnapped quickly unravels. The two are acting students and they thought this hoax would be their ticket to a reality show. But the young woman’s murder leads Alex and Milo to a shady acting school run by a wealthy, flighty teacher and a string of disappearances of other aspiring actors.

Kellerman keeps Gone tightly wound, accented by authentic dialogue and acute insight into the grudges and longings that drive people.

Hoag’s 13th suspense novel is a winner

“Prior Bad Acts,” by Tami Hoag; Bantam ($26).

Multilayered stories and acute social commentary aren’t Tami Hoag’s forte. But the author does excel at first-class thrillers that start strong and hold the reader’s attention. Sure, the plot twists are predictable and the writing is a bit more formulaic than that of the genre’s true artists, but Hoag knows how to wring a nicely complex plot and keep the reader engaged.

In “Prior Bad Acts,” Minneapolis judge Carey Moore makes an unpopular ruling that seems to favor a serial killer. Then the judge is attacked in a parking garage, the killer escapes and a renegade cop decides to take justice into his own hands. It’s hardly a simple case for homicide cops Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska (“Ashes to Ashes”).

The breakneck pace well serves “Prior Bad Acts.” Hoag’s 13th suspense novel is a winner.

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