Avoiding excessive sensationalism
Intervention by Robin Cook (Macmillan)
With his new book, Robin Cook—one of the originators of the medical thriller—moves, with mixed success, into the realm of Dan Brown.
Three old college friends, a medical examiner, an archaeologist and a Catholic archbishop, are brought together by the discovery of a first-century ossuary (a stone chest containing bones from an ancient tomb) that has “religious significance”.
Cleverly Cook weaves together two narratives—the discovery of the ossuary by archaeologist Shawn Daughtry (wrongly called Doherty on the cover blurb) beneath St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the campaign by New York medical examiner Jack Stapleton against dangerous alternative medicine.
Each man has an agenda: Stapleton is deeply troubled at home by the incurable illness of his infant son; Daughtry, a lapsed Catholic, wants to embarrass the Catholic Church by his discovery of bones of a major religious figure (I won’t spoil it by saying who) and a hitherto unknown gospel that sheds a different light on a New Testament villain. In particular, Daughtry wants to embarrass his old classmate, Kevin Murray, now Archbishop of New York.
Stapleton’s campaign against a new-age chiropractor, whom he blames for causing the death of a young student, is put on hold when Murray—portrayed as an eminently amiable man—asks his old friend to help Daughtry (who has stolen the ossuary from Rome) to do forensic tests on the bones of the eminent biblical person (I refuse to reveal who she or he is) together with Daughtry’s wife, an expert on DNA. He is also hoping that between them they can convince Daughtry not to use his findings to discredit the church and possibly imperil the faith of pious believers. Then things start taking a slightly nasty turn ...
To his credit, Robin Cook avoids excessive sensationalism. None of his main characters are archetypal villains. If anything, he presents three men caught in a complex scientific and moral tussle with each other and the issues they face.
This restraint is also the novel’s weakness—while intriguing there is very little build up of tension. When menace surfaces near the end it comes from a fairly predictable source and the double ending is predictable. The result is a fairly entertaining read that does not quite live up to Cook’s earlier writings. Perhaps he should have stayed clear of Dan Brown territory.