Book Review: ASCLEPIUS
Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming
Someone is killing all of the doctors opposed to the monopoly of the big drug companies. Those committed to the world of alternative medicine become aware of the ugly fact at the 10th annual health symposium of doctors and researchers chaired by Dr. Geoffrey Chance Du Bois in Atlanta. A shocking question about the recent deaths and disappearances of alternative medicine doctors rocks the building and everyone wonders who will be next.
Certainly, the full-scale conspiracy against these doctors makes for a solid theme to build a novel for its author, Christopher Rutledge, an Indie filmmaker and screenwriter. This is his second book, with a striking debut of Murder at Venegoni’s. This latest entry in the suspense thriller category possesses all of the main ingredients of the genre, including a pattern of various intriguing motives and a roster of familiar characters.
The main character, Dr. Du Bois, a renowned alternative medicine physician in his late 30s, has a lot on his plate with the crimes in his profession and his fractured personal life. He’s got an ex-wife, Judith, and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Except for an occasional glass of red wine, the doctor practices what he preaches, noting that the best health care is “preventive care.” He views the body as a temple. Following an attempt on his life, Dr. Du Bois realizes that he may be next on the list.
Partnering with a colleague, Dr. Ola Fulani, the doctor wants to team with her to check into the killing of their peers. She informs him that two of the mounting victim tolls were classified as suicides. Dr. Du Bois uses a young fan of his work and computer geek, Justin Jakehorne, for his computer skills. Justin’s nocturnal activity as a “hacktivist” turns up the name of Viktor Kalashnik, a sergeant with the Ukrainian Special Operations Force and a name connected with the murder cases.
Often, the narrative of the novel is sped up, all too brief with a suggestion of what the chapters should be. Like the master screenplay writer-authors William Goldman and Evan Hunter whose work sometimes read like fictional sketches, Rutledge often doesn’t flesh out scenes or put any heft on his characters. Events move very, very fast before the reader gets a chance to digest them.
However, there are many instances when the author hits a home run with pivotal scenes. He does shock with Viktor staging the killing of Justin. Viktor also arranges to surprise the doctors as their Lyft driver where he tries to kill them, and without revealing too much, is also connected to Madilyn Hardwick, Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products – U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Rutledge’s Asclepius reimagines the old medical thriller, away from the predictable Michael Crichton format. The evil government official with a vicious assassin willing to root out all competition. Some of the characters are very familiar, like old bedroom slippers, but his willingness to experiment with, and skill in, suspense makes this book reader worthy. It’s a satisfying effort.