Go to Homepage   Dirk Wyle: Pharmacology Is Murder

 

Rainbow Books softcover; ISBN: 1-56825-038-X
Ben Candidi, narrator of Dirk Wyle's Pharmacology Is Murder, belongs to Mensa. I'm pretty darn sure of this, because he mentions it at least four times in the first forty pages. Remember this fact; I think there's going to be a quiz later.

Order from Amazon todayIf Wyle's trying to typecast Candidi as a brilliant but abrasive underachiever, it works. Tired of working in a dead-end job and living on a run-down boat, Candidi accepts a free ride to a Ph.D. in pharmacology in return for helping the Miami medical examiner investigate the death of a faculty member at Bryan Medical School. But both book and protagonist ultimately fail to satisfy.

Wyle attempts an ambitious hybrid of John McDonald and the Robin Cook/Michael Crichton school of techno-medical thriller. But Wyle's protagonist lacks the unswerving moral compass that is Travis McGee's greatest strength. And although Wyle demonstrates an impressive level of pharmacological knowledge, his insider's perspective keeps lay readers at a distance. Wyle has not yet mastered Cook's or Crichton's ability to seduce readers into thinking they understand the arcane science at the heart of his plot.

Where are Dr. Watson and Col. Hastings when you need them? I've rarely seen a book that could gain more from a dense but well-meaning foil to whom the sleuth could patiently explain the technical information critical to the story.

Also unfortunate is the way Candidi and the medical examiner refuse to discuss their investigation except though a cloud of double-speak and innuendo. This tactic serves the characters' ends. It would allow them to deny under oath, should it be required, that Candidi is investigating anything. But it doesn't serve the reader at all.

We don't expect our literary sleuths to be angels. When mere human laws conflict with Sherlock Holmes's notions of right and wrong, he follows his conscience. We turn a blind eye when he commits burglary to secure evidence or pulls the wool over Lestrade's eyes to protect his client.

But there's the key: to protect his client. Candidi protects only himself. As anyone who's followed current events over the last year can testify, the sight of a man walking that fine line between the devil of self-betrayal and the deep blue sea of perjury may inspire pity or disgust. But walking that line does not a hero make.

Moreover, Wyle ends the mystery long before the book. I kept hoping for a final, Hitchcockian twist to turn everything on its head. Alas, the final chapters only detailed Candidi's clever efforts to extricate himself from the consequences of his actions.

Better editing might have helped. Far too many "words" were "unnecessarily" enclosed in "quotation marks." And several lengthy passages on the scenic wonders of Miami contributed so little to the plot that I began to wonder if the author was on the take from the Florida Department of Tourism. Next time, if we're doing a pilgrimage to the tomb of Anastasio Somoza, can we arrange to find a body there? Or at least a red herring?

Donna Andrews

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