“Death Benefit”
by Robin Cook
Read by George Guidall
Produced by Penguin Audio
Approx 11.5 hours.

Back in the ’70s Robin Cook had a huge best seller with his book, “Coma.”  I remember everyone just had to read this book (I was still into just monster books at the time).  Then the movie came out and again folks were excited.  Dr. Cook then went on to write many best sellers but “Coma” was the first one that came to mind.  I got the opportunity to listen to this book, “Death Benefit,” his latest creation, and had to ask myself, “Why haven’t I read anything by this guy before?”

So here I plunge into a medical thriller, written by the man who pretty much perfected the genre, and I’ll tell you first hand, Dr. Robin Cook can keep you in suspense, while spinning a tale that involves science that could be happening now, and a story that could almost come out of today’s headlines.  I think I may have been intimidated before, knowing that he is an actual physician, I had assumed his writing would get real technical.  Well, I was right it does get pretty technical, but Dr. Cook has a way of telling the story and the science behind the story that becomes educational as well as entertaining.  The science behind this book involves  stem cells and the growing of human organs, and, well, let’s just say, I followed along pretty well.  I don’t consider myself a biology know-it-all, but I’m also not uneducated.  When it comes to biology I sit right about in the middle of that knowledge scale.  But, and here’s the good part, listening to the story told by Dr. Cook the science came easy and he wrote in such a way that anyone could grasp the ideas.

Before I go into the story, I would like to talk about the reader, George Guidall.  Mr. Guidall did a nice enough job reading the book and even did some nice vocal changes to match the characteristics of each character.  However, I think if I were the one casting a reader for this book I would have gone with someone with a 20 something female voice.  He did a nice enough job to keep the book interesting, but i just think it might have been better with a younger and female voice since the book centered around Pia Grazdani a fourth year medical student.  And many of the characters were younger.  Guidall matched perfectly with some of the older professors and the mobsters, but some voices just would have worked better otherwise.

The story comes at you from two fronts to start out with.  First with the story of two financial investors that have come up with the latest scam since the bubble burst on sub-prime mortgages.  That scam being the buying up of life insurance policies of folks who may have a short time to live.  The person gets 15 percent of the policy value and the investors collect on the policy when the person dies.  These two investors go out an purchase policies of those with fatal illnesses, especially those with diabetes.  Knowing they won’t live long the investors make money off the dying.

The second aspect of the story is that of Pia Grazdani, who through a troubled past has worked her way through college and is now on her 4th year of Med School at Columbia University.  Pia is taken under the wing of Dr. Tobias Rothman who sees Pia as he was and convinces her, that she is cut out exactly for research.  He gives her the chance to work with him and Dr. Yamamota on something that will revolutionize the medical industry, using stem sells to grow human organs that because the come from the tissue of the person needing the organ will not be rejected.  Thus creating a pancreas, for example, from a diabetic’s own cells and transplanting it and extending the life of the patient.

When the investors get word of this research, they realize that 75% of their policies are on diabetics and that this could financially ruin them.  Soon Dr.s Rothman and Yamamota contract a rare strain of salmonella and die.  While it is written off as carelessness, since they were both working on research involving the salmonella strain.  Pia, however does not buy into this and she begins investigating on her own.  Her investigation leads to death threats on her self and a path that leads to a part of her past she has tried to put behind her.

This non-stop thrillride will take you from the campus of a prestige medical school, to the offices of shady investment bankers to a new crime syndicate without taking a breath until the very end.

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