Audiobook Review: A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer

28 02 2011

A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer

Read by Robert Petkoff

Macmillan Audio

Genre: Medical Thriller

Quick Thought: An over-the-top, yet fun medical thriller read wonderfully by the narrator.

Grade: B

Michael Palmer has been writing successful novels for quite a long time, yet his latest medical thriller A Heartbeat Away is the first one of his novels I have read or listened to. There are a few reasons why firstly because I tend to look for series, and Palmer seems to mostly write standalones, and secondly I was a little skeptical about the whole Medical Thriller subgenre. You see I like a lot of the mystery/thriller subgenres like legal thrillers, and police procedurals, but all in all it often becomes “Oh, he’s a lawyer, but he also solves crimes…” and “Oh, he’s a shrink, but he also solves crimes…” and on and on. So, did I want to see a doctor who solves crimes, sort of the literary version of Diagnosis Murder? Yeah, I knew it would be more complex than that, but for some reason, I just never felt the urge to jump right on in. Then I read about A Heartbeat Away, and its plot of a virologist attempting to stop a biological weapon which was set off during the State of the Union address. I was like… hmmmmm… a medical political thriller now that might be interesting. 

So, I listened to it. I have to say, I do not think that this is going to be a critical darling, in fact, I bet it gets a bunch of snooty disapproving reviews. The plot is over the top, sometimes wobbling on the fence of believability, the characters, especially the political ones, are cartoonish often evoking laughs from me at what may have been inappropriate moments, and the action often seemed forced moments to add some excitement to the novel. Yet, with all that, the novel was just too damn fun. Good intentioned yet stubborn politicians taking on narcissistic power whores. Super mercenaries battling nerdy doctors who haven’t been in a fight since some jock stuck them in their locker. And of course a vast evil conspiracy willing to kill and destroy for their own purposes. What more would you want when chilling out with a good book. Add to that a little bit of romance and a great, even touching relationship between two colleagues that reminded me a bit of the old Canadian TV show reGenesis, in a good way.

To add to the fun, Robert Petkoff seems to have the time of his life reading this. His narration is crisp and formal, but when he gets to voicing the shrieking, nearly psychotic Speaker of the House, or the various mercenaries and other assorted characters, he really shines, reading them with such vigor it’s hard not to enjoy. While this probably won’t be topping off the NY Times end of the year best of list, it’s a fun, fast listen that us regular folks can enjoy.

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