Sandra Glahn's latest novel seems to me to be miscategorized. The blurbs on the back cover and comments I've seen around the web (including mine in the overview post of Wednesday) refer to it as a medical thriller.
Let me correct that. This is really a medical-family drama. This is not, per se, according to The Mir, a thriller. For it to be a thriller, I need to be swiftly and consistently on the edge of my seat thinking something utterly dreadfall is about to happen around nearly every corner. Thriller's have a fast-pace, throttling suspense, spine-chilling events, well, you get the drift.
So, yes, INFORMED CONSENT is not a thriller. It's a very enjoyable Christian medical drama with an element of mystery and a light touch of suspense. That isn't a diss. That's a recategorization so that readers know what they are getting.
You can find a blurb for it easily enough by googling, by visiting the amazon.com page (see link below), or by reading my previous post on it. But, you're here, so let's see what I can do to help ya decide if this is the book for you:
INFORMED CONSENT takes you into the world of Dr. Jeremy Cramer, a man with trouble in his marriage, traumas of the accidental deaths sort in his past, two children--one of whom will form the crux of Jeremy's dilemma later in the novel--an insufferable superior, and assorted colleagues (good and bad, mostly good). He's also a bright man who happens upon a glimmer of an idea that ends up becoming highly promising medical research that offers hope of restoring health to the end-stage AIDS patients and, well, other good things.
Because of the conflicts in his life, Jeremy is a man under stress. He's also a man of iffy faith. He also seems to be this sort of Jonah. People die around Jeremy. (This, actually, was one of the more interesting things about him. Hah!)
So, the novel delves into familial issues (workaholic dad, neglected-feeling mom, kids who want to see more of daddy) and marital issues (the separation, emotionally, and the hidden dark feelings that can come between a man and wife) and emotional issues (due to tragedies and mishaps). This is really what drives the novel, not the "thriller" aspect. If you don't like the sorts of novels that run on emotion, forget it. If you do like these sorts of conflicts, then read on, this may be for you.
The book opened in such a way that I went, "Oh, this is nice. It's gonna be a literary sort of emotional read." But then it changed. And, in fact, the opening chapters--I have cataloged the weirdness of several Christian fiction novels that just don't seem to get their footing for many chapters, and what is up with that?--feel episodic, bouncing from here to there, with occasions of early dialogue that feel like infodump (here's my research in this character's dialogue!), and the tone not gelling. But gel INFORMED CONSENT eventually does! And very well, too. By mid-book, I was totally, totally hooked. The pace is excellent once it gets that footing after several chapters, with multiple issues giving narrative drive to the story, and people being...people. :)
Characterization is just enough to keep the story going, better in some spots, some that shine, notably when Cramer interacts with Barlow and when Cramer's wife interacts with Barlow's wife. (Barlow's wife ends up being a bit of a surprise, too.) It's not literary novel level characterization. Jeremy actual never gets totally rounded, I think. But Jeremy and his wife are well-drawn enough that you'll care about their pains and problems, which is what a reader wants to do. Care.
There was something that bothered me later in the book: There's this very big contrast between the initial emphasis on Jeremy's memories of family in the beginning and the latter portions, where the concerns of the past just drop off at points when you expect they will be slipping in. That seemed to be an imbalance in the structure to my ubercritical eye. BUT..the epilogue ROCKED. The way the ending referred back to events in the beginning was satisfying, although, again, Jeremy's father really seemed to have vanished in the later part of the book from Jeremy's mind, when he was so uppermost early on, nearly obssessively so.
I found myself at points really interested in a secondary character--Dr. Barlow--and his wife. That's a storyline that I was sorry had to be kept minimal, as I wanted to spend more time with them and their issues. This is a good thing, btw. :) A plus. I like it when the secondary stories get my attention.
Another plus: Minority characters. The main character, as I mentioned in the overview Wednesday, is half Asian Indian. One of the less likable characters is, ahem, Latino. One of the more lovable characters is a black woman born in Aruba. Unfortunately, the bits of culture that are given in the early chapters relating to Jeremy are all the culture we get. His "Indian" part seems to have no effect on his characerization later on. This confused me a bit, as the set-up made me think it would be more important.
Giggles from: The "urinating kidney." Also, the Bee Gee's "Staying Alive" playing in the morgue.
INFORMED CONSENT also does something pretty interesting with DNR orders, and I will say no more in order to avoid spoilers.
This Christian fiction novel is not preachy. Matters of faith are present, but not bang-over-your-head noisy. Because ethical issues are dealt with--DNR, lawbreaking, medical dilemmas--there is some religious context for some characters, but it's not sermonizing.
I read a review somewhere, forget where, that said something similar to what I opine now: There is some distance in the voice. In fact, in a couple spots, there is a jarring use of the term "the father and son" when it's the POV of the father that is used (third person). That threw me out each time. But other than that, there is a sort of alternation between a bit more internal closeness and a clinical distancing, a dryness in the prose. I assumed it was intended since the setting is scientific in part and the protagonist is a doctor-researcher.
CONCLUSION: A solid, enjoyable family/ medical drama with good conflicts and a satisfying resolution. There is some good tension, but not to the level I'd deem "thriller." I'd recommend this for those who like family values fiction with a dose of mystery/suspense and some nice "healing" moments.
If you'd like to have a chance to win a copy of this novel, please leave a comment with your name (or online moniker) under this post or under yesterday's "giveaway" post. Either one. I'll take names until Monday, the 29th.
Read a short excerpt of INFORMED CONSENT.
Wanna buy the book? Here ya go: