F. Paul Wilson likes to defy genre labels. His new novel, Panacea, is a speculative fiction thriller tinged with horror motifs. If pressed to categorize the book, it would be easiest to describe it as a lovechild inseminated by authors Dan Brown and Robin Cook. Wilson echoes Brown’s penchant for conspiracy theories, and also employs elements Brown is fond of, such as symbols and codes. Cook is perhaps best known as the writer of Coma, a tale that made many readers paranoid about surgery. Wilson, like Cook, has a background in medicine. His professional knowledge strengthens the verisimilitude necessary to keep the plot of Panacea from spiraling into utter fantasy. The medical babble is extremely well integrated into the narrative; not too didactic or distracting.
Here’s the premise: A panacea exists that cures whatever illness and/or dormant health threats a person has. It is a plant-based derivative that is cultivated by a secret society, and is distributed very selectively to the needy in their circle. Opposing the ancient cult is an ages old radical Christian sect called the 536 Brotherhood, which advocates suffering as part of its demented dogma. A key member of the brotherhood is Nelson Fife, a corrupt CIA agent. He has at his disposal technology and weaponry that could stymie the work of panacea makers. His ultimate goal, though, is to obliterate them and the cure they concocted. In his warped mind, the infidels deserve painful deaths.
Drawn into Fife’s malign maelstrom is New York Deputy Medical Examiner Laura Fanning. Laura is a divorced mother of a young girl. The child suffers from a compromised immune system that is potentially fatal. When a fabulously wealthy man who is near death offers Laura multimillions of dollars to investigate the panacea, she accepts largely because of what the cash would mean for her vulnerable daughter’s life. Accompanying Laura on the trek, which includes several overseas locales, is a shady bodyguard.
The author humorously embraces the numerous clichés inherent in such melodramatic storylines. With Fife embodying stereotypic villainy, Wilson relishes exploiting the character’s over-the-top traits. It’s hard not to grimace when Fife says “I call you pagan and witch, and I’ve come to put a stop to your sacrilege.” The grimace is immediately replaced by chuckles with this riposte from the bodyguard: “Did we just walk onto the set of a Syfy Channel film?” Poking fun at his own dialogue is Wilson’s smart and savvy salvation.
Wilson is the recipient of a 2008 Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. After years of writing the adventures of Repairman Jack, F. Paul Wilson is now turning his attention elsewhere. Panacea, published by Tor Books, marks the start of a new series. Although it asks the larger philosophical questions regarding the ramifications of a cure-all that indeed cures all, the novel is predominantly an entertainment, fitting nicely into the niche of a diverting summer read.