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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, January 19, 2003

These Authors Have Had Successful Second Careers as Writers

What do two medical doctors, an attorney, and a former American Museum of Natural History editor have in common? They're all prolific authors of best-selling thrillers.

Prey by Michael Crichton (Harper Collins, 2002).

Crichton has been called the "father of the techno-thriller." He has challenged and excited readers and moviegoers with thirteen best sellers, beginning with The Andromeda Strain (1969) through Jurassic Park (1990) and Disclosure (1994) and, most recently, Prey. He is also the creator of the top-rated TV series ER.

A graduate of Harvard Medical School and former owner of a computer software company, Crichton utilizes his scientific background in his works. Whether tackling cloning, lethal bacteria, or electronic tampering, he researches his topics extensively before setting fingers to the keyboard.

In Prey, his subject is nanotechnology, the building of machinery on an atomic scale - so small that 1,000 of these nanomachines could fit in the width of a human hair.

Nanotechniques are currently being used to make such mundane products as sunscreens and stain-resistant fabrics, but the sky's the limit on possible applications.

When a swarm of microscopic machines designed to form a spying instrument escape from a desert lab, high-tech computer programmer Jack Forman is hastily summoned. He finds that a program he wrote, PREDPREY, has, in the wrong hands, allowed the nanoparticles to become self-replicating and evolve as predators.

Filled with interesting concepts and a redoubtable hero, Prey is a nail-biting, late-night read that will make a high-concept movie.

Utopia by Lincoln Child (Doubleday, 2002).

Prepare yourself for a thrill ride as you visit a cutting-edge, futuristic theme park outside of Las Vegas.

Child, the co-author with Douglas Preston of Relic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, and similar anthropological mysteries, has crafted his first solo effort. We are immersed in an intricately described amusement park -- filled with robots, holograms, light shows, state-of-the-art rides, and even a gambling casino -- that puts Disney World to shame.

As in Prey, it takes a computer-savvy hero to save the day when a nasty band of terrorists hold the park for ransom and threaten mass death if their demands are unmet. Bruce Willis with Bill Gates' brain will be perfect for the movie role. In the meantime, read the book.

Reversible Errors by Scott Turow (Straus and Giroux, 2002).

Veteran Chicago attorney and legal novelist Scott Turow (author of Presumed Innocent and Burden of Proof) is actually one of the people responsible for Illinois Governor Ryan's recent decision to empty the Illinois death row.

Turow, a member of the 14-member commission that studied the state's death penalty, voted with the slim majority that recommended abolition of the death penalty. He has also lobbied on the state and federal level.

This novel was begun just before and finished just after his work with the commission. Drawing from a number of actual cases, he weaves the story of a low IQ death row inmate who, days away from execution, makes a last-minute appeal.

This is a complicated, multi-layered work but worth the effort.

Fatal by Michael Palmer (Random House Audio, 2002, Abridged).

Years ago, I read Robin Cook's medical thrillers, but this is my first Palmer.

All these thrillers have the same plot elements - a courageous and selfless doctor, a pernicious medical syndrome, an evil and scheming villain (usually a corporation), and a worthy heroine in need of saving.

In this case, the hero is an ER doctor in West Virginia, the problem is a lethal neurological condition, the suspected villain is a coalmine that is dumping toxic waste, and there are two imperiled heroines -- a young pathologist and a woman fighting a new mega vaccine.

I thought that the five-hour cassette version was a bit choppy, so I would recommend the thirteen-hour compact disc version available McCollough, North Park, and Oaklyn branch libraries.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.