The Devil's Cure
Reviewed: September 27, 2002
By: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: HarperCollins Books
443 Pages, $9.99
Devil's Cure we have a novel which hovers between the thriller territories
usually occupied by Robin Cook and Thomas Harris. That is to say we have a
novel which is one part medical thriller and one part serial killer.
Haines in the serial killer, a man driven by an extreme religious mania. His
madness centers on the purity of blood. It seems that people he considers
impure don't deserve to have any. Haines is in prison when we meet him, but it
appears that he is still having a profound effect on the body count. He has
recruited disciples among some of the prison personnel and has been able to
establish a kind of mail order madness cult by communicating directly with some
of his groupies on the outside.
is during the investigation of a murder committed by one of Haines' followers
that we meet FBI agent Kevin Sheldrake, the profiler who tracked Haines down
three years earlier. Sheldrake, a former religious cult victim himself, was
severely traumatized by his work on that case, and most of his superiors feel
he is now damaged goods. They don't want to listen to the idea that Haines has
followers until Sheldrake, operating outside the usual chain of command, proves
it beyond a doubt.
third major character in the novel is Dr. Laura Donaldson. Her obsession is
with finding a cure for cancer, an obsession made more urgent by her sister's
illness. A routine blood screening for HIV at the facility where Haines is
incarcerated turns up the fascinating fact that his blood is full of cancerous
cells, and that his immune system seems to be handling all of them before he
can ever actually get sick. Haines' blood, the blood of a man on death row with
just days left to live, may contain the cure she and so many others have been
is a tough case. We know he is obsessed with the purity of his own bodily
fluids so when he finally agrees to allow samples to be taken we can predict
what will happen next. Haines stages a bloody escape with Laura as his
temporary hostage. When she eludes him he sets out, with the help of his
surrogate killers, to eliminate anyone who might know anything about the
FBI are torn between the need to track and capture or kill him and the need to preserve him for
testing. Laura is torn between her duty to medicine and her certain knowledge
that the man is a deadly killer. Kevin is tortured by his need to reenter
Haines' way of thinking in order to track him down. he still hasn't recovered from the last time he had to do
this. It has cost him his emotional and physical health as well as his
marriage. He lives with the fear that success might cost him his sanity.
set up provides us with all the ingredients for a chase thriller with lots of
possibilities for mayhem, deduction and eventual success or failure. Since we
start in the middle of the action, so to speak, there's also lots of room for
Oppel to explore the backgrounds of his characters and reveal to us what has
shaped them. He does this quite effectively, providing us with some insights
and making them more than just cardboard heroes and villains.
Oppel will be better known to younger readers than to adults. He is the author
of a 16 books for children and young adults, including a highly rated series of
fantasy novels about bats, the first of which was Silverwing. He is sufficiently famous in children's literature
circles that he was one of those chosen to read at the Skydome when J.K.
Rowling was doing the tour for her fourth Harry Potter novel.
was his first novel for adults, and it probably won't be his last.