The Bottom Line: A fast-moving, hard-hitting medical thriller about the sacrifices a doctor is willing to make for his family – as well as the ethical and privacy dangers that come with modern medical research. Highly recommended.
Moments after Dr. Jonathan Morrison discovers that his nine-year-old son Mike isn’t breathing, the ER veteran uses a steak knife and a plastic straw to perform an emergency at-home tracheotomy. He temporarily saves his son’s life, but the family’s troubles are far from over. Soon, Jon learns that Mike has cystic fibrosis, a chronic condition that affects the lungs and gastrointestinal system.
Shortly afterwards, Jon runs into Eric Gordon, a former classmate from medical school. It’s been some time since the two have seen each other, and on the surface, Eric looks fitter, healthier and wealthier than Jon remembers. Eric soon urges him to meet with Emory Stone, a consultant from Advanced Genomic Research (AGR). He explains that AGR has been recruiting doctors, and that they might be able to help Mike.
Jon does so reluctantly, and is soon shocked to discover that Stone – and his colleague, whom Jon privately dubs “Nerd” – have intimate knowledge of Jon’s personal healthcare and financial details. The duo then proceed with several professional, political and religious questions, followed by a rather extreme scenario-based psychological exam. Once complete, Stone presents Jon with a confidentiality agreement and a disclosure that AGR is close to a gene repair therapy that could benefit Mike. In exchange, they want Jon to acquire DNA samples from as many of his patients as possible.
That fateful meeting sets the Morrison family on a collision course with an organization that is willing to do anything to meet its objectives.
From the opening pages, author Dr. Frank J. Sapienza creates an atmosphere of everyday terror as Jon, who is a physician but a father first, is faced with a seemingly unthinkable choice between saving his son and breaking both the law and his personal code of ethics. “You’ve always played by the rules,” Stone says. “Where has it gotten you?” Jon’s temptation is as old as time, but it is exceptionally believable in an age where the time to develop vaccines and cures of all kinds are increasingly measured in years, not decades.
Meanwhile, Sapienza fleshes out the novel with a cast of characters whose relationship with the greater conspiracy becomes clearer as the story progresses. There’s Darla, who has been a seemingly well-adjusted young woman until recently, when she has gradually grown angry and even violent. And Bethany, who has been under a doctor’s care for anxiety, apathy and testing for a potential disease. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, Sapienza’s descriptions of ancillary characters and their families come in short, intense chapters that pay off big time once AGR’s true nature is exposed.
The Greater Good works well as a medical thriller, but there’s far more to it. Long after readers have turned the final page on Jon’s plight to save his son and his code of personal ethics, they’ll remember Sapienza’s thoughtful exploration of contemporary medical research and its dangers.