It's spring in Buffalo, New York. At sprawling St. Paul's Hospital, new interns rush through the halls, staff doctors scramble to catch their protégés' mistakes, and everyone is aware of one unrelenting threat: A new and vicious strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has hit America hard and is menacing the hospital like a wolf at the door. Wrapped in spacesuit-like garb to search for every possible source of infection, the hospital staff desperately tries to protect the lives of patients-and of each other. Yet despite St. Paul's best efforts, people are dying.In this chilling medical landscape, no one notices the slight spike in the death rate in a palliative care ward. The prevailing attitude is "They're supposed to die. That's why we call them terminal."
Several patients die each day at St. Paul's Hospital, a sprawling complex in Buffalo, N.Y., that takes on the most high-risk cases, including victims of the SARS virus. A few more deaths a week would hardly even be noticed. But hospital vice-president Dr. Earl Garnet, star of Clement's enjoyable line of medical thrillers, perks up when he hears about a strange circumstance in the hospital's cancer wing: a few days before they died, many of the patients reported out-of-body near-death experiences. Someone, Garnet determines, has been taking cancer patients to the brink of death and tape-recording their observations before briefly bringing them back to life. Suspects include the hospital's chaplain, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who has been lobbying for years to get St. Paul's to relax its policy on withholding pain medication to terminal patients; Monica Yablonsky, the head nurse on the cancer ward whose prickly, unhelpful demeanor makes Garnet wary; and Dr. Steward Deloram, St. Paul's critical care expert who has also done extensive research into near-death experiences. The action in Clement's sixth hospital-based thriller (Mortal Remains, etc.) moves briskly and without an overload of medical jargon. Despite several indistinguishable characters and a few dead-end plot lines-Clement does little with the SARS element after an initial buildup-this entry keeps the author on an ascending trajectory in the genre. Agent, Jay Mandel. (Dec. 28) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 28, 2004
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Excerpt from The Inquisitor by Peter Clement
Wednesday, April 2, 5:30 a.m.
Palliative Care Unit, St. Paul's Hospital
Buffalo, New York
The air on the ward hung thick with the smell of flatulence, body odor, and sweat-soaked sheets. What little light could be seen curdled in pools of shadow. The cries that rose and fell against the outside of her door might as well have been a wail of wind, because here no one would heed them. The nurses paid attention only when the moaning stopped.
Somewhere someone retched with a force that must have stripped the stomach bare. The sound echoed along the hallway.
That might bring them.
Soon the squeak of crepe soles on linoleum would announce their approach.
"Store up all the tiny details. Let me smell, taste, hear, see, and touch through your telling of them." The command, issued to me so long ago, resurfaced, resonating in memory with the freshness of an order spoken on the spot and not to be disobeyed. As always before a mission, it marshaled a frame of mind fine-tuned to observe, the ideal state to be in for keeping myself and the records sharp.
"Can you hear me?" I whispered, holding back on the plunger of my syringe.
"Yes." Her eyes remained shut.
I leaned over and brought my ear to her mouth. "Any more pain?"
"No. It's gone."
"Do you see anything?"
"Only blackness." Her whispers rasped against the back of her throat.
"Look harder! Now tell me what's there." I swallowed to keep from gagging. Her breath stank.
"You're not my doctor."
"No, I'm replacing him tonight."
She didn't respond.
I gave her a gentle shake. "Mrs. Algreave?"
"Just leave me be. It doesn't hurt anymore."
Leaning back, I studied her gray, skeletal face. The moonlight cast a silvery blue tinge over her pallid skin, making her appear already dead. As for the rest of her, so much had wasted away that the soft material of her lace nightgown clung to the hollows between her ribs and reminded me of white gloves on bony fingers.
I glanced toward the closed door --the nurses shouldn't start their rounds for another half hour yet --and reapplied my thumb to the plunger. A slow push, and her pulse grew weaker. "Do you see anything yet?"
"Tell me what you see."
"It's too dark."
"But I can't see."
"Do you sense yourself rising?"
Again no answer.
I shifted my mouth closer to her ear. "Talk to me, Mrs. Algreave." The words must have sounded like a shout.
"Leave me alone."