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Some paranoia required
By Allen Wyler
392 pp. Astor + Blue
Reviewed by David Hoekenga, MD
Renowned neurosurgeon and researcher Jon Ritter is on the brink of a breakthrough that could change the face of health care worldwide. The number one killer, heart disease, is waning due to powerful new drugs and clever techniques such as stents. Soon Alzheimer's disease will surpass it. Dr. Ritter's surgical procedure implants stem cells into the brains of sufferers as a potential cure. Lost in thought about how to fund further trials, he is lured from his office to the parking garage and jumped by two men. One of them shoots Ritter's mentor and friend while the other hits Ritter on the head with a pistol butt. Not a good start for our fictional hero, but it gets much worse in this heart-pounding thriller.
Dr. Allen Wyler, himself a neurosurgeon, writes compelling action prose. In one scene, Ritter flees the South Korean police with the help of a sympathetic lab technician:
Out where? He grabbed the railing, leaned over, (and) looked to either side. What the hell was she talking about? This side of the building was solid brick with a narrow ledge a half brick wide connecting similar balconies of the other two units on this side. “You kidding? There's nothing to stand on.”
She pushed him again. “Hurry!”
More pounding came from the door.
Shit! He peered straight down three floors to an alley of bricks, a few puddles, and garbage cans. His heart stopped. Where the hell was he supposed to go? A fall would kill him. His muscles locked up.
Yeonhee said, “Quick, quick! Go out there.”
“Jon, Detective Park is at the door!”
Great choice: Park or lying dead on stinking bricks in fucking Seoul.
Such episodes of sheer terror alternate with prosaic frustrations we've all experienced:
By now his battery indicator showed only one segment, so he powered off the cell, replaced it in his pocket, walked another block to the corner and glanced up and down the street for a familiar landmark.
When Ritter loses funding from the National Institute of Health (dreaded bankroller of nearly all medical research in the US), he sets out to continue his research, albeit illegally, in Korea.
Jon Ritter has just lost the love of his life and now the only thing he cares about is his medical research.
On second thought, maybe if he was being completely honest it is the only thing he ever really cared about.
Dr. Ritter proves quick on his feet fortunately because neither the clumsy State Department nor lumbering FBI proves adept at protecting him. He is assaulted by a sinister but style-conscious, money-grubbing Aussie hit man, a hard-hearted, bullying Korean detective and a greedy, unprincipled drug company CEO.
Ritter barely eludes the Korean police, Seoul airport authorities, airline employees, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and numerous customs officials. Perhaps the author believes that given half a chance a resourceful doctor can outsmart just about anyone, including most bureaucracies.
Some characters come to life, such as Korean lab tech Yeonhee and Jon's FBI handler Gary Fisher (although he isn't fleet of foot and Dr. Ritter suffered mightily because of it). But many of the characters are one-dimensional, such as the big-breasted, always naked and horny girlfriend, and the controlling, jealous, inappropriate boyfriend.
The girlfriend, Nikki, enjoys being watched while having sex. First her lover has Nikki “stretch out on the bed so he (the voyeur) could sight past her left hip, out the open doors, over the balcony railing...with his expensive Bushnells.” Then she “sighed and flashed a pouty face before immodestly spreading out on the sheet, giving doofus a full-on beaver shot.”
If after reading it you don't change your password, rekey your locks, and go through your lover's purse or wallet surreptitiously, you do not have a healthy level of paranoia.
It's neither about a deal nor a dead end. But despite its pointless title, Dead End Deal is a fast-paced technical procedural that quickly sucks the reader in. I recommend it.