Sometimes all it takes is ingenuity and imagination for a fiction writer to pose a scientifically plausible scenario, and the story is ready to take off. Robert Greer puts forth such a premise grounded in scientific research in Heat Shock, but the reader doesnít have the opportunity to put all the pieces together until the final fast-paced chapters. And Iím not going to tell.
What Greer adds to the mix is an interesting group of characters from the unusual to the dastardly, almost with one eye on the movie screen as the action winds up. Carmen Nguyen is a doctor in a Colorado emergency room, taking a respite from genetic research that ran into a bureaucratic snafu, infighting that left her temporarily out of work, disgusted and betrayed.
Doctor Nguyen never expects what eventually falls into her lap to challenge her research skills and reawaken her scientific curiosity. An ex-uranium miner who is also a professional bird trainer for local cockfights turns up in her ER one night, brought to his knees by an unusual but identifiable form of leukemia. Carmen bonds with the crusty old man, who talks her into checking up on his game birds. The third part of this strange triangle is Walter Rios, a solitary river rafter who also becomes attached to the old man and, of course, Carmen. Rios meets them both after a serious river accident puts him in the emergency room as well. Walter and Carmen, carrying out old Lukeís directions, stumble across some very suspect evidence concerning the invincibility of the gamecocks and the long-term effects of uranium on the old manís health.
Of course, a raft of bad guys are hatching nefarious schemes for self-aggrandizement and personal profit, and the author fleshes them out with all the despicable qualities of the antoagonist, especially the mastermind who sets everything in motion. There is a cultural mix within the story: Navajo soldiers who served together in Vietnam, multi-ethnic Carmen (Afro-American-Vietnamese) and her Vietnamese aunt, haunting memories of the massacre at Mei Lai. People who seem as disparate as unmatched squares of a patchwork quilt come together in a complete pattern before Greer is finished.
This scientific mystery has all the right ingredients: fascinating characters, good and bad, an intriguing plot and the well-planned denouement of the criminal perpetrators. At the end of the day, right may have triumphed over might, but many questions are left unanswered for another day. After doing his scientific homework, Greer pens a believable and action-packed thriller, the kind guaranteed not to disappoint.