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  Paramedics Samantha Williams and Jay Barlow are working on an uncooperative patient in the back of an ambulance when the twenty-seven-year-old man suddenly goes into full cardiac arrest. There is no clear-cut reason for such a death in such a young man, until the hospital pathologist discovers a baseball-sized tumor in the man's brain. This is considered a very rare and unfortunate situation until Jay learns that the man's neighbor died of exactly the same thing little more than a year earlier. As the story progresses, more and more local people are diagnosed with tumors, cancer, and birth defectsfar above the average for such a small community. Jay races to find out why this is happening, enlisting the help of his friends, family, and colleagues while along the way he must deal with the demands of being a husband, father, and a paramedic. Who is killing the community and why? When the horrible truth is revealed, Jay rushes to find the killers and convince the town that they are victims of a very real and deadly plot, a plot made even more frightening because it is based on a true story.

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Review for Esbenshade

Esbenshade is a modern thriller that revolves around paramedic Jay, who faces a difficult truth when a patient in his twenties dies of a brain tumor. It is then that he learns this relatively rare incidence is only one in a community pummeled with unusual medical challenges. The emotional surge and investigation that follows draws Jay from his medical specialty into a world of subterfuge and secrets as he probes the cause of this onslaught of rare health challenges while maintaining his role as husband, father, and community member. As he becomes entangled in a deadly plot that holds personal ramifications, Jay finds his career and life threatened by a truth nobody wants to tackle, much less admit.

The Barnes' do a fine job of exploring the relationship between Jay, his female partner, and the stress that he experiences from his newfound position as a quasi-investigator:

"I'm sorry, Sam. I've been feeling a little stressed out lately."
"I'm not surprised. Things haven't exactly been sedate."
"I don't ever remember feeling so uptight. So bottled up and unsure of what's going on in my life." "You could talk to somebody, you know?" she said gingerly.
"I'm talking to somebody now."
"I mean a professional."
"You mean a head-shrinker."
"Oh, come on, Jay, you know better than that. The dumbest thing you can do is not get help when you need it."

Such dialogue brings his conundrums, skills, and new challenges and realizations to life as Jay struggles with roles he's unfamiliar with and doesn't feel certain about assuming. From mystery informants and deals to juxtaposing a typical paramedic's ambulance duty with issues of community safety and politics, Esbenshade creates an atmosphere in which its characters are provoked to rise to unusual occasions and conclusions as a medical mystery turns into a social threat. As the odds of resolution and survival narrow, Jay experiences personal and professional growth that readers will find particularly intriguing and inviting as the countdown towards a real disaster begins. The characters are personable, realistic, and memorable, as are the situations that compel them to act and react beyond their training. Readers who choose Esbenshade for its thriller components will find the action well cemented in realistic scenarios that contain elements of surprise, while those who look for medical thrillers well grounded in interpersonal and community relationships will find Esbenshade equally absorbing.

Libraries strong in medical thriller stories will find Esbenshade a fine addition.

Diane Donovan 
California Bookwatch

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