Michael Palmer has seen his share of bestseller fame. His other work Natural Causes, has found itself embraced by the mother of all book reviews - the New York Times Best Seller list. As such he has built up a reputation to deliver some fine and thrilling medical drama in written word. Silent Treatment is another step to the plate. Well written and very engrossing, it should find a comfortable position on any reader's shelf beside Natural Causes.
I have not read his other works yet. Silent Treatment was the first foray into Palmer's prose that I've made, suggested to by my father. One thing I've noticed is that it is very difficult to keep thrillers alive and entertaining for any portion of time. Witness such great starts as the X-Files, which fell into lackadaisical and whimsical plot lines and deflated stories easily foreshadowed to the point where predictability becomes standard fare. While not reading Palmer's work prior to this, I do have some thriller reading background and in the medical sub-field as well with the likes of Cook's Chromosome 6*, and I will be the first to admit that the creation of a good thriller is difficult work. To keep it interesting and engrossing the author must carry multiple plot lines, twist the story in new directions, keep it from becoming cliché or obvious during the entire run of the novel.
Palmer did this quite well. He even used some levels of predictability to create new levels of unpredictability. Turning a story in an expected way, the reader finding it expected, only to set them off guard for the next unexpected twist. Palmer's aplomb at creating multiple storylines to keep a reader confused enough to not notice the next direction change prior to their being halfway through it is high. His attention to detail adds to the surmounting climax with sudden realizations by the main character and reader as well.
He also created one of my favorite villains I've had the pleasure to meet in some time. Doctor Anton Perchek is not a super villain. He's not a mastermind. He's not even all that smart - kind of vengeful in a childish way. What he is, as a matter of fact, is totally unremarkable. So unremarkable he could fit anywhere - a typical anything. Perchek's claim to fame is his medical knowledge, of course, as this is a medical thriller. He is renowned at keeping his "patients" alive, awake and coherent through pain. A professional torturer, if you will.
Throughout the novel you'll find yourself following the tale of Harry Corbett, a general practitioner. Following the untimely death of his wife, he is suddenly mired in a conspiracy theorists wet dream as a secret society of medical insurance heads practice various questionable treatments at the wont of saving money for their firms. Perchek is in the middle of this as a hired hand - an assassin who performs his work in a syringe rather than a pistol chamber.
You'll find Silent Treatment rather quick to read, believable in all extents and Palmer's knowledge of the field he writes about is well-researched and extensive, which only serves to heighten the fear. There's nothing here that would seem comically implausible, and therefore the novel takes on a level of realism that's hard to attain (Chromosome 6's gene work, for example, was far-fetched and had the end result of damaging the book's realism in the long run). Not exactly a kid's book, but easily followable by most anyone without going too far into the medical science, Silent Treatment shows Palmer is one of the few that can carry a thriller without losing steam.
* Off The Shelf review in Legends #83, January 1999.
"Silent Treatment" by
Published by Bantam Books
Copyright © 1995 by Michael Palmer