The characters in Fever ruined this book. Fever had an interesting premise that tied in medical and environmental issues, but all the characters were selfish and impulsive (maybe Cook was going for “realistic”? I don’t even know), and I felt like a helpless bystander who couldn’t do anything to rectify the many things that went wrong. It also didn’t help that Cook exposed the characters’ every single thought, since that just made me hate them even more. And even though the ending made me like the characters a teeny weeny bit more, it also felt rushed and unrealistic.
Forty-five-year-old Charles Martel changed careers from a doctor to a cancer researcher at the Weinburger Research Institute after his first wife died of lymphoma. Now his twelve-year-old daughter, Michelle, is suddenly down with a fever; when she gets diagnosed with leukemia, Charles fears that the same tragedy will happen again. By chance, he discovers that large amounts of benzene from Recycle, Ltd. has been leaking into the pond near his house, and he suspects that this was the main cause of Michelle’s leukemia. As Charles tries to bring charges against the company and hasten his research in hopes of finding a cure for Michelle, his increasing aloofness and random bouts of rage cause his relationship with his new wife, Cathryn, and his two other children to fall apart. Worse yet, he’s forced to take over running research trials for a new cancer drug, Cancerian, due to the previous head researcher fabricating research data. Time’s running out for Michelle – how far is Charles willing to go to save his daughter?
There’s a problem when none of the characters in a book are likeable. First, Charles is the worst protagonist ever. He doesn’t understand why his eldest son isn’t doing well in college and why he doesn’t want to become a researcher just like him; he’s rude to his lab staff and to his supervisors, and basically to everyone he meets; he doesn’t properly communicate with Cathryn during this whole mess; and his personality and his actions are just really, really awful. Cathryn is a weak character who seems helpless and easily manipulated, and I had moments when I even hated Michelle because she keeps incorrectly assuming that Charles is mad at her. And everyone outside of the family is evil, conniving, mean, or just plain unlikeable. It’s like someone gathered all the antagonists from every single book and stuck them in this one! Ugh.
Part of what makes the characters unlikeable is due to Cook’s writing style, which feels apathetic and dry most of the time. Even when a character is outraged or emotional, the scene feels lifeless and forced because there’s no subtlety to it. For example, Cathryn, at one point, feels a “stabbing pain of guilt” that is nowhere near as stabbingly painful as it could’ve been if it were shown using actions or gestures.
In addition, everyone’s thoughts and feelings are broadcasted, so we are unfortunately subjected to hearing about how Cathryn’s stepson is infatuated with her, how Charles’ lab assistant lusts after him, and how Michelle’s doctors think Charles is crazy. No one thinks nice thoughts, and it feels like everyone’s being self-destructive.
The plot itself is also extremely bleak and unrealistic; although Cook combines some interesting issues such as environmental toxicants, disease risk, and a lot of other sciencey things, some situations felt exaggerated and melodramatic. Throughout the story and even up to the ending, I kept thinking, “Do you really expect me to believe that?”
So my first Robin Cook book didn’t go as well as I expected. Fever is a deadly combination of bad characters and bad plot. Even though the premise was interesting and the issues raised in this book are very real, this story completely self-destructed.