Social life is as flat as the frigid plains of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for cardiologist-to-be Dr. John Mueller, who is biding time there while completing his medical residency. To fulfill a requirement, he’s involved in a boring solo lab project. His illusive supervisor, biology professor Dr. David Devilliers, ignores John’s work and doesn’t share details about his own research. When two bag men posing as U.S. Federal Drug Administration agents accost Devilliers for information, John escapes with the biologist’s computer and the thugs in pursuit.
Unfortunately, Jeff Marschall sets up his central character as a wuss who is keenly aware of his lack of grit. John’s the kind of person who, while being chased, ponders his inadequacies instead of thinking about the quickest route to the police station. Taking readers inside the doctor’s panicked mind, Marschall writes, “He wasn’t a warrior, or even an athlete. He was a scholar. Sure, he wanted to save lives, but only against invisible-to-the-eye pathogens or rogue cells…nothing bigger than he was.”
Marschall doesn’t allow John to become a hero. Furthermore, he casts John as someone who always seems to do the wrong thing, such as failing to seek help for Devilliers because he’s too busy trying to crack the professor’s computer password to find out what all the fuss is about. It’s enough to make a reader shout, “Call 9-1-1, you fool!”
This lack of a hero is a serious problem in a thriller. The issue is magnified in LURE by an overall paucity of likeable characters. No one is admirable. All have some flaw fatal to reader empathy. Another problem is that LURE doesn’t live up to the adrenaline rush of its opening pages. It bogs down in unappealingly graphic sex scenes and rhetoric that goes overlong, such as a mind-numbing speech by a pharmaceutical industry con man about how conquering cancer will make world overpopulation worse. At the same time, LURE doesn’t provide enough background about the research on which its story turns—cold viruses as weapons against cancer.
Marschall, who is a physician, poses a scary possibility: What if a pharmaceutical company would do anything to gain control of a powerful cure? But frustrating characterization, uneven pacing, and a shallow dive into the medical world dull the force of his idea and his debut novel.
LURE poses a chilling, thriller-worthy idea centered on the pharmaceutical industry, but loses force through flaws, including the lack of a hero that readers can root for.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader