Customer Reviews: A Heartbeat Away
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on February 15, 2011
I've read each of Michael Palmer's books, and from the first scene of A Heartbeat Away I was thinking "This one's his best." When I turned the last page and my heart stopped racing, I hadn't changed my opinion.
During the President's State of the Union address, a terrorist releases a bio-agent in the chamber with potentially fatal consequences, and the only man who can save the group is a scientist the President has had locked away for treason.
The characters are well-drawn, the action is fast-paced, and unfortunately the scenario is believable. I'll say it again. This is Palmer's best so far.
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on April 3, 2011
We're big Palmer fans, having read his every novel. We usually totally enjoy his medical thrillers, but find a disturbing trend in his two recent books. It seems the author, almost shades of Robin Cook, has run out of stories with a plausible medical plot and somehow feels compelled to branch out into the political arena ala David Baldacci. Our biggest gripe with "Heartbeat", the title itself almost a spoiler, is that it is entirely implausible -- not merely the initial shocking development at the State of the Union address, but virtually every plot turn thereafter. With people escaping secured compounds, stumbling across the one person they are searching for in a city of 10 million, etc. etc, there is almost nothing we found anything but farfetched. We don't remember short chapters (ala Patterson) to be Palmer's style, and to us it did nothing to sustain or create suspense; rather, it just gave us so many scene changes we found ourselves reading two or three pages, then setting the book aside for another time. When it takes us three weeks to read one of our favorite writer's efforts, that time frame tells the whole story. As much as we hate to say it, and we may well be in the minority, we find this to be his worst book to date; and one we found thoroughly unenjoyable. We gave up Robin Cook when he went over and stayed over the top -- we surely hope Palmer's next gets back to what made him great.
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on July 22, 2011
If you like one dimensional characters, an improbable series of action scenes, formulaic plotting and an predictable ending, then this one's for you. I thought that a 4 star average on Amazon indicated a potential good read, but it doesn't. Apparently good scientific information, but overshadowed by a pedestrian style of writing. It had all the basics: scheming politicians, scheming businessmen, righteous scientists, evil scientists, a crusading reporter, love interests and life and death decisions. But with these ingredients, the result is less than the sum of its parts.
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on March 20, 2011
This is not that book, not by a long shot. Unless you're saying "Wow. How did this piece of crap get published?"

Now I love a good bio-medical political thriller as much as the next guy. But there were too many plot holes and inconsistencies for a book that already required a ton of suspension of belief. The basis of this book is that a terrorist group called Genesis is terrorizing America. Yet security at the Capitol for the State of the Union is lax enough to get a bunch of explosive containers of biological hazards in? And to allow someone to set up a complicated system of surveillance cameras inside the Capitol a week before? No and No. And the President and the entire Congress are sequestered in the Capitol for a week and there's apparently little national news coverage on the topic? And the President decides to only get ONE virologist (and one who just spent 8 months in prison as a suspected terrorist) to try to solve this crisis? And a virologist who doesn't believe on animal testing to boot?

And then there's the little holes. Like when Griff talks about not having internet access to help solve the virus puzzle but then a few pages later googles "what's the longest a human ever stayed awake?" And then there are the numerous FAXES Griff and the President exchange. Hello? 1993 called and they want their technology back.

Now on the bright side, you are virtually guaranteed to be surprised at the ending. I tried to save myself some misery and skip to the end after reading 150 pages, and I didn't recognize *a single name* in the penultimate chapter. (Yes, I went back and finished it. No I shouldn't have bothered)

I'm pretty sure this book is actually PETA propaganda camouflaged as a novel, but I'm unwilling to read anymore Michael Palmer to find out.
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VINE VOICEon November 4, 2011
Interesting plot, but shallow presentation.
I am ambivalent about Michael Palmer's A Heartbeat Away. The plot was interesting but Mr. Palmer's presentation was rather shallow and at times rambling. A terrorist group calling itself Genesis unleashes a virulent, highly contagious virus into the House of Representatives chamber during the annual State of the Union Address by the President. Only the President, James Allaire, knows how deadly this virus is. The plot swirls around the President and disgraced and imprisoned virologist Griffin Rhodes, who the President calls upon to develop and antidote. Rhodes was imprisoned by President Allaire because he supposedly stole the virus in league with Genesis. The clock is ticketing as President Allaire sequesters everyone who attended the State of the Union Address in the Capitol building to keep the virus from spreading From there the plot takes off, as Rhodes is determined to not only prove his innocence but to find an antidote.
There is a lot going on in A heartbeat Away, maybe too much, as Mr. Palmer just could not get into any depth as multiple subplots muddled the story. Because of that, character development was spotty and shallow. We engaged the various characters on a very superficial level with pro forma dialog that just barely kept the story moving along. I counted 4 wonderful characters who could have been developed but were just left hanging. The terrorists, Genesis, were never really developed as they were just a prop for the virus story. Too bad as there was a lot of potential. A Vince Flynn, Lee Child, Michael Connelly or Robert Crais would have had a field day developing these terrorists and what they wanted. Mr. Palmer just told us over and over they were bad men. "Bad" men always make for intriguing possibilities Mr. Palmer!
No gratuitous sex, language, or violence. Maybe just a bit more action would have given this story more depth.
Mediocre thriller. Again I am ambivalent about A Heartbeat Away. I liked the basic plot but sadly it was not developed. Lots of characters but again very shallow. The potential was there but the execution was wanting. Basically, a quick pulp fiction read along the lines of James Patterson and other book "churners". Definitely not a hardback buy. Wait for the paperback or get it at your local library.
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on July 14, 2016
I love everything I've read by Michael Palmer and am so sad that he is no longer with us to continue you the spell-binding medical mysteries. I did have a few reservations about this book, however, as it seemed to drag a little at times. I think if I were more medically knowledgeable, it would have meant more to me; it often felt a little "over my head". That said, it was still a powerful plot that took some doing to come up with and make work.
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on February 15, 2011
Tickets to the State of the Union Address are as hard to come by as Super Bowl tickets, but in Day 1 of this Michael Palmer thriller, it's not the place to be. A domestic terrorist organization that calls itself Genesis manages to unleash smoke bombs laced with a lethal virus into the House Chambers in the middle of the President's speech. The President, who commissioned the creation of the virus as a bioweapon, is the only person in the room who knows how deadly it is and commences to seal the building, quarantining all of the attendees. In the meantime, Griffin Rhodes, a scientist framed for stealing the virus, is suffering prison-guard abuse while in solitary confinement. The President springs him so that Griff can get back to work on a cure for the virus, but there's still animosity and distrust between the two. Enter Angela Fletcher, Washington Post reporter and Griff's ex-lover, to make sure that Griff doesn't step out of line. Palmer actually subjugates the medical aspect of the story to the political, in which the power-hungry Speaker of the House and foe of the President, Ursula Ellis, colludes with Genesis in exchange for a promised cure and elevation to the Presidency. Palmer is just subtle enough with his tasty red herring, and I don't mean Ursula, that I took the bait. Even if you're savvy enough to see the clue for what it is, there's still plenty of suspense here for the vicarious adrenaline junkie but not so much realism that it's going to keep you awake at night. After all, what terrorists are going to want to wear biocontainment suits, unless, of course, they're suicidal? Even if they are, they might be deterred by the fact that the virus doesn't result in a sudden painless death but rather unimaginable suffering equal to that brought on by Ebola. I found the political infighting and corruption much more frightening, especially given today's polarized electorate.
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on February 27, 2011
I'll start with a confession: I literally had trouble putting this book down once I started reading it. If I'd had any experience with drugs other than a brief, youthful affair with marijuana, I might say that reading A Heartbeat Away was like a drug rush. However, I'm chagrined to note that, other than in the intoxicating suspense that builds throughout the novel, it's really not all that good. A competent piece of work by an author of nearly two dozen similar books, but just not great.

So, here I am, reading a book that's written without any special flair for language, about characters who are at best two-dimensional, in circumstances that are about as true to life as a James Bond adventure, and I'm loving the experience! Why is that?

First, I suppose, is the subject matter. A Heartbeat Away is about Presidential politics and biotechnology, both of which are topics I find irresistible.

Second, I'm sure, is the book's plotting. What's at stake in this story has nationwide, even global consequences, and the novel is full of surprises from beginning to end. It's like following a zig-zag course through a minefield (or, at any rate, what I imagine that would feel like!).

Third is technique. Chapters end with cliff-hanging suspense, sometimes in the middle of conversations, and elsewhere leaving you hanging while the scene shifts abruptly to the events unfolding in another tensely drawn subplot.

If there's more at work in A Heartbeat Away, I can't detect it. Maybe I should feel ashamed of myself for actually reading this book from cover to cover?

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on February 10, 2012
Although I enjoyed A Heartbeat Away it was, in my opinion, much to long. I am proud of myself for even finishing it. Although the plot was good the book dragged and was boring in spots. The author's medical background was evident but I found myself using a medical dictionary many times. Even though it was difficult, in places, to read I am glad I completed the book.

I will try another Palmer book before I nix further books from this author.
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on February 15, 2011
Make sure to block out a good portion of your day before starting this one, otherwise you'll feel guilty about locking yourself in the bathroom to finish. A Heartbeat Away was our first glimpse into the world of Michael Palmer and we'll admit - we were pleasantly surprised.

Historically, State of the Union addresses are filled with declarations of progress and frustrations at having to battle misguided policies endorsed by the other party. Few involved would ever expect the release of a lethal virus. Well, for President Jim Allaire, said event is just the beginning of his nightmare and his only hope lies in a rogue virologist currently spending his leisure time in a maximum security federal prison. All the while, death is creeping nearer and nearer to Washington's top officials.

The tone for A Heartbeat Away is set before chapter 1 even begins with a single page containing the official order of Presidential Succession (doesn't exactly provide the reader with high hopes of the top brass making it all the way through to the end). The novel also wrestles with the delicate balance between personal liberties and government protection while constantly blurring the lines of good and evil. Then again, what would you expect when a bunch of politicians are expected to solve complex problems. Oh, that reminds us of a joke - stop us if you've heard this one... A politician, a lobbyist and a journalist walk into the Washington Memorial... sorry, we've digressed.

Overall, A Heartbeat Away was an exciting read. There were times when the dialogue became a bit predictable, but otherwise the characters felt very real. We loved the fact that the plot is veiled in grayness and nothing's as clear as it appears on the surface. Literally, the final twist isn't revealed until the last ten pages. In summary, A Heartbeat Away provides the perfect fix for any long suffering suspense junkie.
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