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Michael Palmer's final work his most ambitious

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 5:09 p.m.

The final medical thriller by Michael Palmer is about homegrown bioterrorism in the United States. Of all the novels he wrote before his death in 2013, this one has the most ambitious plot and a fascinating array of characters.

The villains in “Resistant” aren't your typical terrorists. They seek to abolish Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which they believe are driving the nation to bankruptcy. Members of their group, the Society of One Hundred Neighbors, include scientists and a U.S. senator.

When one of them discovers a species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and its antidote, the Society deliberately infects innocent people with it, hoping to blackmail the government into eliminating the entitlement programs. Unexpectedly, though, the germ mutates, rendering the Society's antidote useless. And the germ begins to spread on its own. The nation now faces an unstoppable pandemic.

The protagonist is Dr. Lou Welcome, an emergency-room physician who appeared in previous Palmer novels. He gets involved in the national health crisis because he wants to save his best friend from this “doomsday bacteria.”

Welcome doesn't get to do much in battling the bacteria until later in the novel, but no matter. There are plenty of other memorable characters, including a hidden genius in microbiology, a Muslim scientist who heads the U.S. government task force to eradicate the bacteria and an FBI agent who tries to bring down a rogue colleague.

The interactions among these characters build suspense until it explodes in one of the best action scenes to ever appear in a medical thriller.

Waka Tsunoda is a staff writer for the Associated Press.

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