Mysteries are like ice cream - they come in different flavors. This is not surprising. I bring this up because I was asked while reading this month’s Mystery Discussion Group book selection whether it was better than the last book I read. The book is called “The Fifth Vial” and it is by Michael Palmer. Palmer is a M.D. and this is a medical thriller – that in itself places it in a different category from the other book I read. Overall I would give it a “thumbs up”.
It has an interesting premise for the story. The mystery revolves around a business in which people are kidnapped and body parts are taken from them. For what? To be transplanted into other people. And the complete business operation is a complex one. Who runs the business? Why do they? How do they?
There is a secret / worldwide organization based on some of Plato’s philosophies. As a matter of fact, each chapter opens with a quote from Plato. This organization identifies who they determine to be best deserving candidates for transplant surgery. Then they locate potential donors based on matching criteria. These donors are unaware they are being considered for these secret transplants. The “fifth vial” is the key to the selection of these donors and uncovering this is what breaks the mystery in this book.
The first donor introduced in this book is a man who seems to be mentally challenged. He was kidnapped and we do not know the reason why until after he is killed by a semi-truck. While doing an autopsy on the unidentified man, a pathologist discovers fresh incisions that lead to the discovery that he was a donor of bone marrow. A watchdog organization brings in a PI named Ben to learn the identity of the man and if possible, what happened to the man. At first he does not have any luck. But he learns the identity of the dead man and finally gets a lead on what happened to him. Following up on his investigation he learns about a laboratory that does blood tests for doctors. He also learns about a fifth vial of blood taken and supposedly kept for backups – in case retests are needed. These vials are shipped for “storage” to a facility in Texas. He learns the secret that these vials of blood are actually tested / screened for transplant compatibility.
Another person to become involved in this mystery is a female medical student named Natalie. She was a serious ex-track athlete. She does not realize it but she is chosen to become an unwilling lung donor. When she makes a trip to Brazil to make a presentation at a transplant conference, she is kidnapped and drugged. What she remembers is being kidnapped and getting shot when she is escaping. She awakes later and is told her lung was damaged by the bullet and had to be removed. She feels lucky to be alive and is making a good recovery with a single lung. Her healthy lung however gets damaged when she rescues her mother and a handicapped niece from a fire. Being a medical student and working in the area of transplants, she realizes her chances are not very promising. She is contacted by an insurance rep who is trying to pay for her medical bills. No bills have been submitted by the doctors or hospital in Brazil. The mystery deepens when Natalie contacts the hospital and they cannot find any records of her or her surgery. She decides to go down to Brazil to get to the bottom of this. Little did she know that she would find out a totally different story than what she remembers. She will find out she was an unwilling lung donor.
The other person who becomes involved in this investigation is actually a medical scientist. His name is Dr Anson and he is involved in research developing a promising miracle drug. Whitestone Labs is funding his research. They are waiting for him to complete his research and release his secrets to them for mass production (and marketing). But patience is running thin and Dr Anson has a physical problem that could strike him down before he releases his secrets. He has pulmonary fibrosis and has not consented to having a transplant to correct the problem. A close colleague arranges to have him drugged to make it imperative for him to consent to have a transplant. He consents to have a transplant from a matching donor in India who supposedly is being kept alive on machines for the transplant. He gets the transplant and does well. To get him to release his secrets, his colleague agrees to arrange a meeting with the “deceased donor’s” wife and family. During this meeting, he realizes this is a staged meeting. Afterwards he learns the truth about some of the lies they tried to pass off on him. He has a meeting with his colleague where he threatens to destroy his work unless he learns the truth about who his donor was. Finally he gets to the truth and learns the lung actually came from the medical student Natalie – she was NOT a random donor.
In Brazil, Natalie learns the truth about her lung from a tip from a nurse. When she plans to meet the nurse, she learns the nurse has been murdered. Natalie is almost killed by a crooked member of the military police while traveling to the place where her operation and recovery occurred. There she meets the brother of the nurse who was murdered. He agrees to avenge the death of his sister by helping Natalie get to the truth. They learn more of the truth when they save our PI from being killed. (You will have to learn about how he came to be here by reading the book yourself.) And she finally learns that her mentor – a transplant doctor is involved in this secret society making these transplant decisions. Another potential and live donor is in place to have her heart taken and given to a more “deserving” recipient.
You need to read the book because there is so much more going on – before, during, and after. It was very interesting how the author used his medical knowledge to make this mystery story. After the story, he gives a little information about becoming a transplant donor.
Incidentally, I mentioned about mysteries being like ice cream earlier. You have your favorites but you like to try something different every once in a while. This was not something I would typically have read but I will plan on reading other books by this author in the future.