by Sukey HowardApril 2010
Murder, medicine and malevolence
Michael Palmer has the prescription for medical thrillers down pat. And The Last Surgeon, Palmer’s 15th in this popular genre, capably narrated by the versatile John Bedford Lloyd, proves that this doctor-turned-writer hasn’t lost his razzle-dazzle, nor his concern with medical/ethical issues. This action-packed, action-paced Palmer production stars Nick Garrity, a talented surgeon who served in Afghanistan and now, living with the disabling effects of PTSD, operates a mobile medical van serving the poor and vets who share his problems, while always searching for the buddy who saved his life when his medical team was attacked.
Taking center stage with him is Jillian, a smart, beautiful psych nurse who is desperately trying to figure out how and why her younger sister, ostensibly a suicide, really died. Why their paths cross, what they discover and the forces they must overcome, including a slick, sadistic, medically savvy assassin who revels in his work and the high-level, super-secret organization that pays him and picks the victims, all emerge as the bodies pile up and Nick and Jillian scramble for their own lives.
Is there a gene for religion?
Nicholas Wade, New York Times science writer, among other lofty credentials, has taken on one of the most emotionally charged subjects of our time in The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved & Why It Endures, read with firm, Cronkite-esque cool by Alan Sklar. Wade is not an in-your-face polemicist, nor is he out to “get” believers or atheists; he doesn’t proffer an opinion about the existence of God. But he is intensely curious about the role of religion in the evolution of human society. And his research has led him to explore the ideas that anthropologists, sociologists, economists, historians and the more controversial sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists have put forward. As he shares his research, he makes his case for religion as the key factor in early social cohesion, the dynamic through which self-interest was subordinated to the common good—the survival of the group. Thus, families could form groups, and groups could grow into villages, towns, cities, states and way beyond. Wade makes the case for the universality of religion and feels very strongly that we are genetically predisposed toward belief—that we’re as hard-wired to believe in a religion as we are hard-wired for language. More than just food for thought, this is a multi-course meal, seasoned with provocative ideas.
Audio of the month
Listening to Simon Jones’ elegant, impeccable rendering of Conspirata, the second in Robert Harris’ brilliantly conceived Roman trilogy, plunges you into the seething world of power and politics in the late Roman Republic. Beginning when Cicero becomes consul in 63 B.C., the grand position that the famed orator, lawyer and master manipulator had fought so hard to win, the story is told by Tiro, a slave who’s become his devoted secretary and constant aide-de-camp. Once you get to know the players and get the hang of their Latin names, you’ll feel right at home and probably agree that when it comes to politics, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (sorry, I don’t know the Latin equivalent). We have Republicans and Democrats, they had Patricians and Plebeians; they talked about campaign finance reform, shamelessly invoked “the will of the people” and had sex scandals galore. There were shifting allegiances, blatant wheeling and dealing and ruthless backstabbing (knives often included), and they could bribe, bully and betray with the pros. The Cicero who emerges in Tiro’s portrait is that fascinating kind of political patriot who defended his beloved Rome against internal conspiracy and fought to save the ideals of the Republic, but who, on occasion, crossed “the narrow line between dignity and vanity, confidence and illusion, glory and selfdestruction.” Vivid history, vibrant audio.