REVIEW – The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer

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The Last Surgeon Book Cover

Title:  The Last Surgeon

Author:  Michael Palmer

First Released:  February 16, 2010

No. of Pages:  384

Synopsis (Courtesy of Amazon): “Michael Palmer’s latest novel pits a flawed doctor against a ruthless psychopath, who has made murder his art form. Dr. Nick Garrity, a vet suffering from PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder—spends his days and nights dispensing medical treatment from a mobile clinic to the homeless and disenfranchised in D.C. and Baltimore. In addition, he is constantly on the lookout for his war buddy Umberto Vasquez, who was plucked from the streets by the military four years ago for a secret mission and has not been seen since.

Psych nurse Gillian Coates wants to find her sister’s killer. She does not believe that Belle Coates, an ICU nurse, took her own life, even though every bit of evidence indicates that she did—every bit save one. Belle has left Gillian a subtle clue that connects her with Nick Garrity.

Together, Nick and Gillian determine that one-by-one, each of those in the operating room for a fatally botched case is dying. Their discoveries pit them against genius Franz Koller–the highly-paid master of the “non-kill”—the art of murder that does not look like murder. As Doctor and nurse move closer to finding the terrifying secret behind these killings, Koller has been given a new directive: his mission will not be complete until Gillian Coates and Garrity, the last surgeon, are dead.”

Comments and Critiques:  I have never been approached by an author or publisher directly for any ARCs.  So, when I received an e-mail from Michael Palmer, the author, asking if I were interested in a copy of his latest book for review, I knew I was not going to turn down the opportunity to do so.   Since I like thrillers and medical mysteries, it was not a hardship for me.  Having never read any of Mr. Palmer’s previous work, I did not know what to expect.  On the whole, I enjoyed my foray into his work.  There was a lot to like about it; unfortunately, there was also a lot to dislike.

For starters, I felt that the story itself was a tad too predictable.  I had figured out the mystery behind Umberto Vazquez’s disappearance well in advance of the disclosure of the answer.  Remember, I am not one who actively tries to solve the mystery before the narrator reveals the answer, so any time I can predict the ending accurately does detract from my overall enjoyment.

In addition, at times, the story line is a bit unbelievable, or at least stretches the reader’s imagination more than normal.  While this is okay with science fiction or fantasy, this is not an admirable trait in a medical thriller.  For example, a nurse and a surgeon are able to take on a sociopathic mass murderer who is a master of disguise and who earns his living murdering people while making it look like an accident or suicide?  A child infiltrates the government’s secrets that its own employees cannot unravel?  It is a bit too farfetched, in my opinion.

Also, the characters are not well-established.  Okay, that is not necessarily true.  It is just that the minor characters are more entertaining, more likeable than the main two characters.  Even Franz Koller, the sociopathic killer, is fascinating if only because one gets a glimpse into a mind that is most unusual.  Junie and Reggie were far more enjoyable than Nick and Jillian, and I found myself more concerned about their well-being than I did for Nick and Jillian’s plight.

That being said, there was a lot to like about The Last Surgeon.  As mentioned above, Junie was a fun character, and Reggie provided some much-needed comic relief throughout the story.  Nick’s post traumatic stress disorder, as well as his struggles helping vets receive their VA benefits, is truly heartbreaking because of the truth behind them.  How many of our soldiers are coming home facing these same issues with no help whatsoever? 

Mr. Palmer writes a decent story.  His physical descriptions of settings were detailed enough to help contribute to the action, and his descriptions of the characters were realistic enough that I could picture each one very clearly in my mind.  Unfortunately, I felt he switched the narrator’s point of view too often.  Waffling between Franz, Nick, Jillian, and even Beth and Reggie as well as other minor characters made the story rather chaotic and interrupted the overall flow of the story.  In fact, it helped prevent the reader from becoming too attached to any one character.

It may seem as if I did not like the story, but honestly, I did enjoy it!  I read the entire novel in a matter of two days because I could not put it down in order to unravel the mystery.  As interesting a character as he was, I truly wanted Franz to receive his comeuppance.  I may not have been on the edge of my seat with concern about their fates, but I did want Jillian to receive some desperately-needed closure of her sister’s death.  More importantly, I wanted Nick to find his happily-ever-after and recover from his PTSD.  I wanted him to stop living with the guilt and live to enjoy life.  In the end, that is what an author hopes the reader will glean from their writing – genuine feelings for his characters.  Mr. Palmer achieved that.

I will definitely be putting The Last Surgeon on my husband’s TBR pile.  In addition, I will be recommending it to all of my friends who enjoy thrillers.  It is an enjoyable, fun, thrilling read with a very poignant understory that deserves more attention.  Thank you to the author, Michael Palmer, for this Advanced Reading Copy.  In addition, I consider this a part of my Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge as well as another for the 100+ Reading Challenge and the 2010 Read n’ Review Challenge.   

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6 Responses to REVIEW – The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer
  1. Diane
    January 26, 2010 | 10:02 AM

    Loved your honest review Michelle. I've been hoping to win a copy of this book. How cool that the author contacted you on this one.

  2. Book Bird Dog
    January 26, 2010 | 10:18 AM

    I enjoyed your very thorough review of the book. I took it at face value – a thriller in which you have to suspend disbelief, so to speak, in order to enjoy it. I did find it a bit violent!

    By the way, I'm giving away an autographed copy of the book, giveaway entries open to Jan. 31.

  3. Michelle
    January 26, 2010 | 2:19 PM

    Thanks, Diane! I know other bloggers get that all the time. I unfortunately do not, so it still gives me a thrill!

  4. Michelle
    January 26, 2010 | 2:21 PM

    Book Bird Dog – It is quite violent, isn't it? I thought it was similar to Criminal Minds in that way though, where just enough violence is shown on-screen to get the heart pumping but a majority of it happens off-screen to make it even scarier.

  5. Stephanie
    January 28, 2010 | 1:50 AM

    Hmmmm…..I think I have a copy of Michael Palmer thriller at home. The First Patient?? I've never been a huge fan of the medical thrillers, although I think Tess Gerristen has done some good ones.

    Since I have it at home, I'll probably read it first.

    I liked your review. Kudos for being so honest. It's harder to do when you are approached by the author himself!!

  6. Michelle
    January 28, 2010 | 8:49 AM

    Thanks, Stephanie! I struggled with this review specifically because of the author contact, but I knew that I had to be true to myself and not let that sway what I wrote. I wouldn't feel right if I did.

    He's not a bad author, and if you have one of his books at home, I would definitely recommend picking it up, but I do like medical thrillers. They are fun in their plausibility.

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