Monday, 20 June 2016

Life Support by Tess Gerritsen - Book Review

4/5 Stars

From the moment we're born, death is our final destination, thought Toby.

Only the date and time of our arrival is unknown...

Edition: Paperback
Pages: 471
Chapters: 21
Publisher: Bantam Books

Book Links: Goodreads
                      Author's Website


Thanks, Tess, now I'll be terrified of hospitals for the remainder of my life... (I joke, well, a little.)

Life Support, especially its first chapter, is enough to shock you to your core. Medical conspiracies, risky experimental procedures, diseases that turn your brain into a veritable sponge, Tess dishes out it all in this often horrifying thriller. Honestly, you'll need to steel yourself, the author's gruesome depictions rival even the greatest horror writers'.

While a standalone, Life Support has a similar feel and structure to another of Tess's novels, Harvest (depending on which one you read first). Rather than tedium, however, this entry to the author's repertoire bolsters the brutality and thrills, and while some of the medical jargon might just sail right over your head, the entirety is a riveting read.

Synopsis (Not a copy from the book, but I always keep my interpretations close.)

Toby Harper leads a precarious life.
On one hand she works nights in an ER, and in the other she cares for her mother who struggles with Alzheimer's.
It's a knife's edge and there's no room for error.
But when a man is admitted into her care with a mysterious illness, Toby's life is fractured.
The man doesn't respond to any treatment, and before she can figure out what's wrong with him, Toby's patient vanishes.
Only for another with similar symptoms to appear.
Toby fears an epidemic, but as she pulls at the threads before her, what unravels might just bury her alive...

Plot - 4/5 Stars

You'll know from the first chapter whether or not this is the kind of novel for you. Tess hammers you with it. It's a chilling collection of pages that burrows deep into the skin. The way the scene progresses plays on the reader's intuition: You know something isn't quite right, but what awaits you is something you can't fully comprehend in that moment. It's horrific, barbaric, and completely captivating.

I expected nothing less from a master of the medical thriller genre.

Once the cold open is out of the way, we're introduced to Toby Harper, our protagonist. There are some pulse-pounding periods of time spent in the ER, where the medical details are on point and delivered by an author with the experience to get it right. Overall, Tess's medical knowledge is a thrilling companion to her skills as a suspense writer.

From there the stage begins to fill. The predominant plot is started and manages to remain both creepy and intriguing, even under all the technical weight. The conspiracies are a delight, and ones that aren't reflected well by the blurb, which I feel is kind of lacklustre (at least for my edition). The tension coils you tight, and as our protagonist goes up against forces higher on the food chain, we really see the moral dilemma Tess creates. It's on-the-edge-of-your-seat stuff.

There is an abundance of medical jargon in Life Support, especially as we close in on the finale. I was worried that the convolution might be too much to break free from, but thankfully the author manages to pull together the general gist for those with limited medical knowledge.

And the conclusion itself wraps up the threads in a satisfying bundle. The reveal is action-packed and tense, and turning the novel's pages becomes far too easy.

Pace - 4/5 Stars

Overall, Life Support's flow is a solid run from beginning to end. Tess's structure and style are joys to read, being smooth and descriptive. My only qualms lie with some parts of the exposition. The meatier elements can sometimes drag the plot down and shake the reader from their immersion.

Characters - 3.5/5 Stars

Life Support's cast treads water. They're not bad, but they aren't great either. Their developments are often riveting as Tess weaves fantastic situations and experiences, but the impact on the actual characters doesn't translate as well as it could have. They're simple drivers of the novel, and ones that could be picked out and replaced with ease.

Probably the best elements connected to the cast, and more so our protagonist, are the family troubles Toby faces. As her mother declines thanks to Alzheimer's, the personal and professional contentions it creates are realistic looks at an impossible balance. It's heartbreaking and respectful, showing the difficulties from both the afflicted and the carer's perspectives.

Writing - 4/5 Stars

Apart from the sometimes overwhelming jargon, Tess sails a tight ship. The plot develops in a riotous way that pulls you towards answers while simultaneously smashing you over the head with horrors and twists. The characters might not step close to your heart, but certain relationships and experiences will.

All in all, Life Support doesn't disappoint with its writing, because Tess Gerritsen has serious skills.

Overall - 4/5 Stars

A riveting medical drama that works many moving parts with almost effortless efficiency. 

For more Tess Gerritsen reviews: Index

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