Review: DR. KNOX by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf/Quercus)

spiegelmanp-drknoxusAn excellent LA-based thriller

Adam Knox comes from a long line of patrician Connecticut doctors — a line he broke to serve with an NGO in the war-torn Central African Republic. His attempt to protect his patients there from a brutal militia ended in disaster and disgrace, and now he runs a clinic near Los Angeles’s Skid Row, making ends meet by making house calls — cash only, no questions asked—on those too famous or too criminal to seek other medical care.

When a young boy is abandoned at his clinic, Knox is determined to find the boy’s family and save him from the not-so-tender mercies of the child welfare bureaucracy. But Knox’s search for the volatile woman who may or may not be the boy’s mother leads him and his friend, a former Special Forces operator, into a labyrinth of human traffickers, Russian mobsters, and corporate security thugs; and squarely into the sights of a powerful, secretive, and utterly ruthless family that threatens to destroy Dr. Knox and everything — and everyone — he holds dear.

I actually read this quite a while ago, but I kept forgetting to write the review. Dr. Knox is the first novel I read by Spiegelman, but it certainly won’t be the last. An idealistic protagonist, single-minded antagonists, organized crime and vulture business collide in this novel. Easily one of my favourite novels of the year.

Dr. Knox is the story of a medical doctor working in an underprivileged section of Los Angeles. He runs a clinic, forever struggling to make ends meet. We learn, over the course of the novel, that his past experience working Africa has had a lasting, sometimes debilitating impact on his work and ability to maintain personal relationships. At the same time, he has a powerful humanitarian impulse, which led him to the clinic and also leaves him susceptible to helping any stray that comes through the door.

At the beginning of this novel, the person in question is connected to and mixed up with a host of powerful, vindictive thugs — of the street and, as it turns out, the boardroom. Knox has an unhealthy attraction to risk, and finds himself inexplicably caught up in the wellbeing of the woman who stumbles across his path. There were times when I had difficulty accepting that anyone would get themselves this involved in the life of a complete stranger, but was nevertheless in keeping with the character Spiegelman has written. Knox is a bundle of contradictions — his humanitarian streak is counterbalanced by the fact that, in order to supplement the funding for his clinic, he takes off-the-books jobs helping his friend patch people up under the radar. This, too, gets him into a little bit of trouble.

Spiegelman’s writing is tight and clear, devoid of over-done flourishes. His descriptions are evocative and sparse, and his characters feel real and well-rounded. The pacing is very good, and I blitzed through the second half in one long, late-night binge.

I’ll definitely be reading more of Spiegelman’s work, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. Very highly recommended.

*

Dr. Knox is published by Knopf in North America, and riverrun/Quercus in the UK. It is out now.

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