The Last Surgeon, by Michael Palmer


The Last Surgeon is a very exciting thriller which I read in a day (Sunday, as it happens). Dr Nick Gerrity, nicknamed Nick Fury after a comic-book character, is serving in Afghanistan when a terrible act of terrorism devastates his life. After recovering physically from his dreadful injuries he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so is unable to return to his army post. He finds satisfaction in working for (and driving) the Helping Hands Mobile Medical Unit, in which, in partnership with Julie, a middle-aged nurse, he helps the people of the streets of Washington DC and Baltimore, also (based on his own experience) helping veterans to navigate the bureaucratic maze of the Veteran’s Administration in order to successfully claim their benefits. Nick is also searching for his best friend, an army colleague whom he last saw some years ago, living as a down-and-out, possibly alcoholic.
At the beginning of the novel, a hired assassin kills a beautiful young nurse, Belle Coates, making the death look like a suicide – the reader has no idea why. Belle’s much older sister Jillian is alone in refusing to believe that sister took her own life, spending her time since that event desperately trying to get the media or anyone interested in helping her find out what really happened. She believes that she must be right when her home is incinerated in a firebomb, destroying all the boxes of Belle’s possessions. One box contained a bizarre collection of comics, about a character called Dr Nick Fury – together with a note in Belle’s handwriting with some odd phrases including Nick’s name. Jillian mentioned this oddity on a late-night radio programme in which she appealed for information about her sister’s death, and to her excitement, a caller says that he knows “Dr Nick Fury” as Dr Nick Garrity, from his days in the army. Jillian determines to find Nick and see how he might be connected to her sister.
The novel continues at breakneck speed as Nick and Jillian, helped by various friends and people who owe Nick favours, try to find out what happened to Belle. Unknown to them, they are racing against time as the killer is continuing his evil work – and, via a clever disguise that keeps the tension pitched high, is keeping track of Jillian’s movements. One of the aspects of the novel I enjoyed the most was the description of Nick and his partner Julie’s medical work, and the details of how they help the victims and poor people on the streets in an uncaring society.  The author has a true talent for making the work of Nick and his friends come alive, and makes us really care about Nick’s search for his lost colleague and Jillian’s attempts to find out what really happened to her sister, which via some neat detective work at a nearby private hospital and a bit of computer hacking lead to an exciting but violent climax. As a thriller this book is excellent and I highly recommend it, though I found the eventual solution not as interesting or compelling as the rest of the novel.

Michael Palmer's website: read a "sneak preview", get the ringtone, widgets and view the trailer of The Last Surgeon, and read about the author's other books – most of them excellent medical-oriented thrillers.

The Last Surgeon reviews page, where the author has collected excerpts from and links to bloggers' reviews.

Review first posted at Petrona, February 2010.

This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, Medical, North America, Romance, Thriller, USA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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