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Panacea
by F. Paul Wilson
Tor, $25.99, 380 pp
Published: July 2016

Laura Hanning is a medical examiner and she likes it that way.  The dead are so much less complicated than the living.  Laura’s daughter has just survived a medical procedure to cure a nasty disease and is on the mend; although since her immune system is compromised she has to be carefully protected.  So, when Laura is offered an extraordinary amount of money which is guaranteed to care for her daughter for her whole life she finds it difficult to say no.  But she really wants to say no.  Ethically, she is reluctant to accept the proposal as she knows for a fact that the mission will fail.  But there is enough doubt and questions that she eventually accepts.

The old man who makes the proposal to Laura is extremely rich and dying.  What he wants is for Laura to find the panacea that will cure him from an incurable disease.  Panacea is a term for a cure that can cure everything; a medical impossibility in any scientist’s eyes.  But there are a couple very strange events that touch on Laura which shake her resolve.  A little boy who had a degenerative joint disease, incurable, dies while riding his bike when he is hit by a truck.  A little boy who could not possibly have gotten up and walked, much less ridden a bike, ends up on Laura’s table for an autopsy.  What she doesn’t find in the autopsy is what shakes her up:  no evidence of the long-term and progressive joint disease; a perfectly healthy little boy.  After that comes two burn victims who didn’t die from the flames or the smoke; perfectly healthy men whose hearts just seemed to quit.  But one of the men had evidence of long-term and abusive drug use; to the extent that he should have died from it but seemed to have been completely healthy at the time of his death.

The old man, Stahlman, relates a story that a panacea truly exists but the practitioners are extremely secretive and particular about who gets the cure.  But every good story needs conflict so there is an opposite and extreme group who seems to not want anyone to have the cure and they go about destroying it whenever possible along with its practitioners.  And, in the tradition of The DaVinci Code, we need ancient secret sects and mysterious clues that lead Laura and her bodyguard, Rick, all over the world.

This was a pretty fast read and pretty standard fare.  I liked Laura’s character and that of her bodyguard, ex-SEAL with a mysterious past, Rick.  And the plot was sufficiently complicated to keep my interest engaged.  There was a bit too much exposition in some spots to suit me but not annoyingly so.  The resolution was easy to see coming but still satisfying.  The best part is the possibility of a new series; with Laura and Rick traipsing all over the world looking for other impossible things.  ~~ Catherine Book

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