In this solid debut thriller, a troubled doctor gets caught up in a global conspiracy after a mysteriously afflicted four-year-old Guatemalan boy dies on his watch. Pediatric ER physician Luke McKenna's curiosity is piqued when it seems the child's symptoms don't match any known disease; he's more intrigued, however, when hospital administrators and Guatemalan officials whisk away the child's body before McKenna can perform a postmortem investigation. While trying to beat back haunting, at times debilitating memories of his time in a shadowy military organization, McKenna continues to pursue the child's case, attracting the attention of a professional killer and the men behind him. It isn't until McKenna's framed for the murders of a former girlfriend and a football player that the good doctor becomes certain a conspiracy's afoot. From there, McKenna's on the run, using his old military training and contacts, as well as his medical expertise, to evade the cops and killers, get to Guatemala, try to uncover the forces he's up against and face his personal demons. Despite some clunky expository dialogue (practically a genre requisite) and a disappointing ending, Hawley delivers intense action, tricky plotting and an unpredictable hero sure to satisfy anyone with an appetite for a good page-turner. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Stigmaby Philip Hawley
In southern California, a young Mayan boy with a blue-crescent-moon tattoo on his chest dies mysteriously. In central America, a puzzling illness is spreading among tribal villages. And soon - very soon - Luke McKenna, a pediatric E.R. physician in Los Angeles, will discover the link between these events and demons from his dark past. The secrets that haunt Luke are about to pull him and the woman he loves into a terrifying house of mirrors. The realm of science and the realm of death are colliding with devastating force, and the stakes couldn't be any higher - the future of the human species.
Time is running out, and only by reawakening the ghost of Luke McKenna's past can they discover the truth.
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By Philip Hawley
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Philip Hawley
All right reserved.
Calderon figured that, on this night, he had to be the only chauffeur at Los Angeles International Airport who was picking up a dying boy.
A TV monitor above one of the airport luggage carousels flashed, announcing the arrival of Flight 888 from Guatemala City. It was 6:18 P.M. The plane was a half hour late, but Calderon was on time and that's what mattered. He'd never been late for a job.
He slid a finger down the lapel of his coat and surveyed his black uniform. Not a stray crease, not a single mark or stain—the boy and his mother deserved at least that much. He ignored the stench of spent diesel from a bus passing behind him as he stood outside the glassed-in baggage claim area and watched for his passengers. Inside, a swarm of travelers sluiced down the escalator and streamed around an eager clot of livery drivers who were jouncing like nervous puppies. No skill, no finesse.
Calderon was a professional. His passengers wouldn't have to find him. He had their description; he'd find them. When they emerged from the last Customs checkpoint, he would appear nearby—a respectful distance away, unobtrusive, but clearly visible to the persons in his charge. He'd immediately conform to their attitude and manner, gregarious if he needed to be, silent andinconspicuous if they preferred. He was especially good at his work, and he knew it. Recognizing the inescapable patterns that define people, anticipating their next thought—these things came naturally to him. He had a knack for this work.
And he usually enjoyed it, but not tonight.
For the young boy and his mother, this was probably their first-ever trip away from home, and almost certainly their first time on a plane. They'd be frightened after being locked away with strangers in a strange metal tube with wings, herded through narrow passageways, hammered with noisy directives, perhaps even stripped of a belonging or two along the way.
Weary and apprehensive, the mother would nevertheless hide behind a mask of stoicism when Calderon greeted her. She would be surprised and pleased to discover that a Guatemalan driver, someone from her homeland, was waiting to welcome them to America, but she wouldn't dare show her relief. He understood; it was their way.
Calderon would befriend her by telling stories about his own journey to America twenty-five years ago. He could still summon the memories of his illegal border crossing: he and his mother crammed into a crowded compartment under the bed of a box truck, the decrepit transmission assaulting his ears until he couldn't hear anymore, the rancid odors of a dozen unwashed bodies, and his mother choked with fear.
Once he seated the boy and his mother in the town car, Calderon would smile warmly into the rearview mirror, lift his shoulders, give them a gentle laugh, and point out the similarities of their journeys. However you come to America, you're certain to be crowded into a tight space with strangers.
The boy's mother might not even smile, but she would appreciate the story. Perhaps her shoulders would relax as he distracted her from her worries for one brief moment.
Calderon imagined the mother's dread. Her son was a sickly boy, a medical mystery. American doctors would try to unravel the diagnostic puzzle. America's prodigious wealth and know-how were poised and standing ready, all for a four-year-old boy from a tiny village in the Guatemalan rain forests.
Only in America.
Josue Chaca and his mother had no idea that Calderon would be there to greet them. He would explain that it was a small welcoming gesture, another gift from the hospital waiting to receive them, University Children's Hospital.
Josue was one of the chosen few, emblematic of American generosity, plucked in a seemingly random way from among millions of children around the globe who endure their deformities and ailments simply because that's the only world they know.
A loud horn sounded inside the baggage claim area and a red light flashed atop one of the carousels as the machinery groaned to life.
When Calderon and his mother had arrived in America, flashing red lights were the enemy. Back then, America's considerable resources had been a constant threat, fuel that fed his mother's never-ending fear of deportation. They were happiest when they received no attention at all, wanting instead to be left alone to eke out their meager existence. A strong and healthy twelve-year-old boy, Calderon had been tossed into an immigrant labor pool that casually discarded those who couldn't keep up.
All of that had changed when he became an American citizen on his eighteenth birthday. It was the same day he enlisted in the Army. Life had begun on that day.
Seven years later his dreams had died when the U.S. military tossed him out like so much garbage. His stomach knotted as he remembered the night he returned home to his mother's ramshackle apartment and spent the night staring at her bedroom door, which was too rotted to hold in the muted sounds of her weeping. She was probably still thinking about her son's disgrace when, a few months later, the Northridge earthquake trapped her under a two-story pile of rubble. The government bureaucrats could have saved her, but instead they let her suffocate to death.
Now, the same America that had for so many years hovered over Calderon and his mother like a storm cloud, the same America that had excreted them as if they were bilious waste, that same America was giving aid and comfort to this woman and her boy. Josue Chaca and his mother were tasting the American dream, if only for a short time.
Calderon's assignment was simple: to make sure the boy never reached the hospital. Josue Chaca and his mother would be discovered later, perhaps in some dank alley—newly arrived visitors who fell victim to random gang violence. It was a distasteful assignment, made necessary only because of his client's lax attitudes about security.
His cell phone sounded. It was a unique ring tone assigned only to Mr. Kong, his "spotter" at the gate. "They here?" Calderon asked.
"We got a problem," Kong said. "Something's happening up here . . ."
Excerpted from Stigma by Philip Hawley Copyright © 2007 by Philip Hawley. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Philip Hawley, Jr. is a general pediatrician in Los Angeles, California. In writing Stigma, he drew on his experience working among remote Mayan tribes in Central America.
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I have to say, I was cautious about buying a book from a new novelist, but then I thought of J.K. Rowling and how great her first novel was so I gave Stigma a try. It was actually very good. I highly recommend it!
It's an exciting feeling when a debut novel appears out of nowhere and dazzles you with such strong writing and storytelling that you can't believe the author has never done this before. That's the case with Philip Hawley, Jr.'s 'Stigma,' one of the best debut thrillers I've read in a long time. Hawley is a pediatrician in Los Angeles, so naturally his main character, Luke McKenna, is, too. McKenna is also a former Navy SEAL and a real tough guy. The plot starts off with a bang when a boy from Guatemala is rushed into McKenna's emergency room and dies a mysterious death. The doctor begins to investigate what really happened, and discovers a plot involving high-tech science and low-grade greed. You expect a book like 'Stigma' to have wall-to-wall action and suspense. And it does. What might surprise you is that this is also a smart book, one that makes you think while entertaining you. 'Stigma' probes interesting ethical questions about the role of technology in medicine, and the ages-old dilemma of where we draw the boundaries of medical science. For a first novel in particular, 'Stigma' shows tremendous polish and poise. If this book is any indication of the kind of talent Hawley possesses, it won't be long before he ascends to the top ranks of thriller authors. Fans of Michael Crichton or James Rollins in particular will find much here to enjoy.
Non-stop action, much of it associated with medical research and experiments. The book begins with an attempted kidnapping to keep medical secrets regarding malaria vaccines to treat various types of malaria through animals and humans. Tests that ran astray, and ended up killing many, were out there and this young boy couldn't be allowed to be seen by medical professionals. While examining a suspected young female child abuse case, Dr. Luke McKenna had a dying young boy from Guatemala brought to the emergency room of University Children¿s Hospital in Los Angeles. Were his hands full? As Luke was tied up with the abuse victim, another resident attended to the boy. The young boy was never supposed to have made it that far but rather be taken and hidden or killed so no one could see what was going on in this child¿s body. Megan Callahan was a third-year pediatric resident at Children¿s Hospital and was the first to examine the young Guatemalan child. Megan was also an ex-romantic associate of Luke¿s. Megan had planned a trip to a clinic in Guatemala to distance herself from Luke and she was anxious to get on her way, but this boy from the very nation to which she was going gave her increased interest. An examination of the boy showed his blood counts off the wall as well as everything in his body. The boy didn¿t make it despite all the work Megan and her associates did to save him. A huge muscled man ran into the emergency room and demanded to see his wife and child (the suspected abuse victim). He was an NFL player in very good physical shape and he flaunted that condition as he tried to force his way into the examining rooms. At that time, Luke happened to be busily moving through and even though he was a smaller man, he was in good shape and was determined to stop this forceful man pushing his way through anyone in the ER. Luke tussled with him and even though Luke was hurting after the engagement, the football player was in worse shape. Luke then continued on to the area where Megan was examining the Guatemalan boy. He just stood in the background and let her finish her work. The football player eventually filed a suit against Luke and the hospital, but that¿s another part of the story. Have I piqued your interest in reading an excellent book? The above part of the book, while very intriguing, is but a small part of the action that flows from the jungles of Guatemala, research laboratories in Guatemala and Los Angeles, intense police work in Los Angeles, to the almost impossible task of finding out who to believe and trust in all of the above areas. The story is very plausible and makes the reader think of such an experiment going awry in today¿s highly technical and medical world. Some groups force experiments before they are ready for humans and ¿Stigma¿s¿ author, Philip Hawley, Jr. makes this case in a superb story.
At the University Children¿s Hospital in California, a Guatemalan Mayan child dies in the emergency room in spite of pediatric Dr. Luke McKenna's efforts to save the boy. Luke is confused as the child¿s illness is unknown to him. However, he is stunned when Guatemalan officials abetted by hospital administrators take the young corpse away before he can perform the required postmortem exam.----------------- However, the former SEAL is not one to ignore a mystery so he continues to ask questions, which leads to killers needing to silence him. They do that by cleverly framing him for the murders of a former girlfriend and a football player, which energizes Luke further to exonerate himself while learning the entire truth. On the lam, he realizes he must go to Guatemala to find out what killed the child, not realizing the horror that awaits him if he can stay alive with thugs trying to kill him and elude the law as cops want him arrested for the two homicides.----------------- This action-packed medical thriller grips the audience from the onset and never slows down until the final confrontation. The fast-paced story line is fun to follow as the hero uses his military training to endure his ordeal although the strain on his mind is enormous as horrible memories from those days in uniform engulf and albeit endanger him. Though the climax seems weak, readers will want to run along side McKenna as he struggles to survive and uncover the truth.---------- Harriet Klausner