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This is the story of Dr. Phil D'Amato, a NYPD forensic investigator who is drawn to investigate not only a disturbing series of murders but also the mysterious and inexplicable memory losses that those around him, and he himself, seem to be experiencing.
This novel can't decide what genre it wants to rest in. At times it takes on the familiar tone of a traditional police procedural, particularly in regards to the multiple-murder plotline. At other points it aspires to be a medical thriller, teasing the reader with hints of hard science in its flashes of bacterial quorum sensing and the threats of multiple antibiotic resistance. Levinson seems to assume that most if not all readers will instinctually know that most modern antibiotics do not pass the blood-brain barrier (a key clue to the bacterial component of his story). As a biologist, and avid reader, I do know about the blood brain barrier, but how many other laypersons do? The third thing the novel aspires to be is a quasi-historical scavenger hunt, seemingly in the vein of The Da Vinci Code. There is an odd subplot involving ancient antibiotics and the Phoenicians and their possible explorations of the New World as well as some odd tie to an island monastery off the coast of Scotland. Levinson also hangs his hat heavily upon the supposition that hyssop and the molds associated with it were perhaps responsible for the invention of the modern alphabet (don't ask me to explain, it takes Levinson a terribly long time to do so as well).
There is an odd science fiction tone that weaves its way through the novel, which in spite of its schizophrenic plot lines, does an admirable job of introducing some pretty complicated scientific concepts. Unfortunately, due to the Sci-Fi pall which hangs over the novel as a whole, much of the fairly interesting, and true, science content gets thoroughly lost in the muck.
This might have worked better as a one hour episode of television, rather than a full length novel, and indeed, the dialogue sounded much like that of direct to cable second rate television programs. At many times the conversations of Levinson's characters rang distinctly false. One test I always use when evaluating the ear that an author has for dialog is I ask, "Does this conversation sound like something I might overhear this on the train?" If it doesn't, then it probably doesn't sound like anything that a real person would utter in the first place.
The novel itself is fairly fast paced, and plucks right along, with major plot points and clues revealed at regular intervals, so the reader never has to wait too terribly long to get the next piece of information about either the central murder case, or the memory loss phenomenon. Unfortunately, Levinson telegraphs his "surprise" ending quite early on in the novel, so that when the denouement arrives, it is neither refreshing, enlightening, or satisfying. The ending seems planned well in advance, and indeed, about ¾ of the way through the novel, it appears that Levinson is in a race just to get to the end and get the book over with, as the writing feels even more compacted and rushed.
The reading of the audio book was emotive and authoritative and the reader Mark Shanahan cannot be faulted. However, the producers of the audio book seemed to think that more was more in this case, and felt the need to add sound effects and multiple musical cues throughout. Perhaps this was to ramp up the drama and make the reading seem more theatrical. I, for one, prefer an audiobook to be a straightforward reading of a book. That is what I pay for. If I want bells and whistles, then I would wait for that direct to cable adaptation Paul Levinson seemed to be gunning for all along.
© 2007 Marysusan Noll
Marysusan Noll teaches high school biology and forensics in Long Island, NY, and makes her own art.