Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Cell is the latest page-turning, edge-of-your-seat novel from best-selling author Robin Cook which focuses on George Wilson, M.D., a third-year radiology resident at L.A. University Medical Center whose fiancée, Kasey, tragically passes away while lying next to him in bed one evening. Three months later still dealing with the loss and guilt of not having been able to help her, George is invited by an ex-lover and college classmate, Dr. Paula Stonebrenner, to attend a conference by Amalgamated Healthcare, an insurance giant and his hospital’s new owner.

Amalgamated is announcing the end of beta tests for a groundbreaking new technology soon to be released, the iDoc, a smartphone app with all the capability of a primary care physician; not only able to diagnose symptoms but actually treat them as well. George is awed by its capabilities but also shocked by the announcement given that iDoc had truthfully been his brainchild; an idea innocently shared during an emotional discussion he’d had with Paula years ago after the death of his mother. Despite his initial feelings of disconcertment at his idea having been hijacked and concerns for the end of medical care as we’ve known it, George is increasingly more impressed by the incredible technical milestone and the endless possibilities at the number of people, like his own mother, which could be helped.

All excitement falls by the wayside though as dead bodies start to accumulate around him; five people in total just at his hospital, each a patient of his and also beta test participants of the iDoc app, including Kasey, as he later learns. As initial doubts become real fears, George wonders if the deaths are due to a software glitch, hackers, or a much more sinister U.S. government involved conspiracy. As George starts asking question, he will put his own life on the line in order to find the truth.

I really enjoyed this book. I chose it both for its compelling scenario but also because my mom used to love Robin Cook. Prior to losing her vision she was a loyal reader of all his novels, so in her honor I thought I’d give him a try and as always mom didn’t steer me wrong. Cell was a taut and suspenseful medical thriller dealing with captivating and current day medical science actually in the news, which is what made the premise all the scarier. Cook hooked me in the first couple of pages with a heart-pounding narrative that had my own lungs feeling slightly constricted (“her heart continued to pound as she struggled to suck air into her mouth. It was getting harder and harder to breathe; she was being progressively paralyzed and suffocating as a consequence.”)

While I loved the story’s premise and narrative, to be honest I didn’t exactly love George, our main protagonist. I found him too methodical and hesitant in his investigative role and to my annoyance and consternation at times downright clueless. I found myself quite literally yelling at the book, (c’mon, can’t you see she’s playing you?) on more than one occasion. My only other small (very small) gripe is the slightly open to interpretation ending to the book, though to be fair it didn't take anything away from the greater whole and I still left happy with the story's resolution.

The science and technology portion of the narrative was utterly engrossing. Despite knowing that today's smartphone technology isn’t quite at the level described in the book; whereas external gadgets could facilitate taking blood and saliva samples and reservoirs implanted in the body could distribute medication, I have no doubt that it’s nonetheless a believable glimpse into the future. Already (today) there are apps on the market that can take your pulse and even manage your stress levels by measuring your heart rate merely by covering your smartphone camera lens with the soft pad of your fingertip. There are apps that can help detect whether its user is depressed, and last year Cornell researchers won a prestigious $100,000 award for creating an app to assist people with bipolar disorder. Just think, if these are the health care-related smartphone capabilities of today, the possibilities for 5 to 10 years from now are limitless.

Cell was a tension-filled and thought-provoking thriller that offers both a hopeful yet potentially scary look at the future of medical care. Cell will capture your attention and leave you thinking about our future long after its last page.