Jeff Abbott, whose 2005 hardcover debut, Panic, was a hit with critics (yours truly included) and the public alike, is back with a startlingly original thriller, Fear. The three protagonists each suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and each is exceptionally strange in his or her own way. Miles Kendrick, a former mob informant, is in the witness protection program, a distinction he shares (unwillingly) with his imaginary dead friend, Andy. Celeste Brent, winner of a Survivor -like reality show, was on top of the world until a crazed fan tortured and killed her husband, leaving Celeste with a Pandora's box of neuroses just waiting to be unsealed. Nathan Ruiz, a veteran of the (as yet) undeclared war in Iraq, was the only survivor of a friendly-fire incident for which he may have had some responsibility. Together, this trio must forge an uneasy alliance against a group of unscrupulous researchers who are trying to make a killing (literally) in the prescription drug market. The plot is somewhat convoluted, but the action is nonstop, and the dialogue is crisp and believable (particularly the conversations between Miles and his imaginary friend). If there is a criticism to be leveled against Fear, it is that the plot requires one to accept as facts things that are not implicitly plausible. That said, the same criticism could be made with respect to The Da Vinci Code, and we all know that didn't slow down its sales one iota.

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