Death Benefit, Robin Cook (Penguin Books, 2011){Penguin Audio, 2011; Narrator: George Guidall}

Grade: Δ — A good, solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre.

This book was submitted to the Archaeologist’s Guide to the Galaxy by Penguin Audio for review.

In brief:

Death Benefit is the latest medical crime thriller by Robin Cook.  It is a well written and an engaging tale where the reader knows more than the protagonist, but could have been better (in my view) had it been written as a true mystery. Even so, it has engaging characters and interesting element of hard biological science fiction that comes close to matching reality.  If you like medical thrillers or science crime fiction, you will enjoy this book.

Setting:

Modern Day United States, mostly New York City (NY) with some scenes elsewhere.

In Depth:

It is rather amusing that the first book I’ve been asked to review by Penguin Audio is Robin Cook’s new release, Death Benefit.  Amusing because A: I have just picked up Life Insurance, and (more importantly) B: I am certain that they had no idea my wife is a biochemist with an MD and a PhD[1] who I could check the science against. Of course, with my educated but limited mind, the science behind it sounded completely plausible.  To a professional, of course, Robin Cook’s ideas didn’t quite stand up.  Still, his medical background did give him a more plausible bit of science than 99% of Science Fiction and created a very very interesting premise for his tale.  Amusingly enough, the least plausible aspect of the tale is not in the science, but in what one of the characters was expected to do in a one month window… but Cook notes that within the text.

Combined with an interesting, believable and sympathetically unsympathetic main character, this created a perfect page turner thriller that kept me engaged throughout the tale.  Pia Grazdani, a fourth year medical student at Columbia University, is a beautiful woman of Albanian decent who grew up inside New York’s troubled social services program.  With some help and intervention by others, her innate intelligence allowed her to excel scholastically and achieve a place in Med School, but left her emotionally distant and socially inept.  Once in Med School, she becomes adopted by the even more socially inept Nobel Laureate in Biochemistry who brings her into an exciting form of stem cell research that promises to extend the lives of individuals with all sorts of diseases.  Unfortunately, this runs afoul of the financial plans of powerful men and thus the thriller begins.

Though Pia knows nothing about the plot against her mentor until the end of the tale, we as readers know the full extent of the conflict, and to be honest, I feel this was a mistake by Cook. He has enough of a story line here that he could have written a brilliantly convoluted but believable conspiracy mystery that would have ranked at least a Beta rating.  Unfortunately (for me anyways), he had “total villain reveal” throughout and the result was an enjoyable book, but one aimed only to a thriller audience. Additionally, there were a few elements of the tale that were a bit too ‘on-the-nose.’  Connections between Pia’s past and the criminals were not really necessary, nor did the ties between her stalwart helper/dysfunctional romantic interest George and the plot serve any real purpose but to infringe on my suspension of disbelief.  Even so, the brilliantly conceived character of Pia, and that of her mentor Dr. Rothman, really kept me intrigued through the tale.  

Having said that, many of the secondary characters came off as just a bit archetypal.  George, the helper/romantic interest, was a little unbelievable.  Had he been less of a handsome all star, his total infatuation with Pia would have been more believable.  Even so, the totally dysfunctional nature of their relationship and the role-reversal elements there in was very well conceived and delivered.  Additionally, some of villains were a bit too villainous for my liking. 

Yet, despite these complaints, I enjoyed this story and was fascinated by the medical and scientific concepts within it.  It is very rare indeed that I ask an expert about the science facts of any story, but Cook delivered these so well that I happily pulled my wife into the mix.  If you like crime or medical thrillers, I would highly recommend this book. It is not, however, a mystery.  

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Penguin Audio has produced a superior quality audiobook, with excellent editing and production values. 

The narrator, George Guidall, is one of the best narrators in the audiobook world, and lives up to his reputation in this novel.  He brought life to the characters without ever once allowing his acting to intrude on the narrative of the book.   As ever, it was a pleasure to listen to him. 


[1] OK, it’s really a DPhil, but since DPhil is simply the Oxonian abbreviation of Doctor of Philosophy, it is really the same thing.  In fact, it is older because Oxford is older than Cambridge, who initiated the PhD abbreviation and… oh, sorry.  I’ll get on with it.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Conspiracy, Crime Thriller, Hard SciFi, Medical Crime Thriller, Science Fiction, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Death Benefit, Robin Cook (Penguin Books, 2011){Penguin Audio, 2011; Narrator: George Guidall}

  1. Scott W says:

    Thanks for the wonderful and thorough review. I think you are spot on, and I love medical thrillers. Robin Cook is so informative, I always come out more knowledgeable than when I went in. I actually heard a great interview with Cook last week on my favorite radio show, The Book Report (www.bookreportradio.com), if you’re interested you can find it in the archives. Host Elaine Charles is always engaging and provides insight on which books to read next.

  2. Billy says:

    I heard an interview with Dr. Cook on The Book Report Radio show. It sounds like a good and interesting read. Listen to the interview on http://bookreportradio.com

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