Cover image for Skeptic
Scott, Holden.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
322 pages ; 25 cm
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To Dr. Mike Ballantine, truth can only be found in science and in concrete research. But when his best friend is killed in what looks like an assassination, Ballantine begins to question his beliefs, his knowledge, and even his sanity. Things soon turn nightmarish as Ballantine begins to have strange hallucinations that seem to be fragments of his friend's life. Then the research in his lab uncovers a shocking but undeniable truth: ghosts can, and do, exist. With the help of a brilliant CIA agent, Amber Chen, Ballantine's quest to stop his friend's murderers from obtaining the critical elements of his research pits him against a ruthless genius in a race against time.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

One of Dr. Mike Ballantine's grad students has been vaporizing mice and transferring memories. Mike himself sees Governor Andrew Kyle, a longtime friend, vaporized by a bomb during a parade. After Mike dives into the red mist surrounding the remains of Kyle's limousine in a vain rescue attempt, he begins to have hallucinations. For example, Kyle's dead riding horse comes into a patient's room while Mike is there. What is not a hallucination is Sheshen, a high-level Chinese agent, aka Snake Spirit, who cuts the ears off his victims and digs out the centers of their brains. But what is he doing in Boston, where that procedure is rare? Svelte FBI agent Amber Chen, who learned philosophy and efficient investigative procedures from her father (one of Sheshen's victims), obtains some vital leads. The plot pursues research and Chinese political contributions to the U.S. in an imaginative, rapid-fire story, filled with clever but believable twists and turns, that proves enjoyable and moving. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0312193343William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

An intriguing, high-flown scientific thesis that links new knowledge of viruses with extrasensory capabilities and unearthly communication with the dead propels Scott's promising debut novel. In the virology research lab of Boston's Metro Hospital, ambitious Ph.D. candidate Teri Pace is confirming a startling discovery about the transfer of information-bearing DNA from one living organism to another while, at the same time, on nearby Beacon Street, Mike Ballantine, M.D., chief of medicine at Metro, is riding in an ambulance in the inauguration parade behind the limo of his best friend, who has just been reelected Massachusetts governor. To his horror, Mike witnesses the governor's sudden and mysterious demise: he is vaporized by a bomb of unaccountable force. Shortly afterward, Mike starts seeing ghosts. Sexy Taiwanese-born CIA agent Amber Chen, who is shadowing spectral Chinese assassin Sheshen, joins Mike in trying to unravel the mystery of the malevolent Chinese Triad's involvement in these mysterious events. Arcane Eastern mysticism, space-age biogenetic research and murder are interwoven in a tapestry of shady money, international politics and star-crossed romance as Mike and Amber try to prevent the theft of the secret of human memory-transfer in a diabolical (if never quite clear) plan to control the world. For much of the narrative, Scott's simple action-driven prose is effective, offering bold characterization and high-concept biomedical thrills. In the denouement, however, the dialogue and exposition rapidly disintegrate, and the heretofore intricate, well-spun tale crosses over into more inconsistent, overwrought pulp territory. Still, this is an auspicious debut. Author tour. (Mar.) FYI: A '91 graduate of Harvard, Scott was inspired to write this novel by scientific research gleaned from Jack McConnell, M.D., co-founder of the Institute for Genomic Research and of the Human Genome Project. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"Based on actual, cutting-edge research," says the press release, which is scary when you realize that Dr. Mike Ballantine has discovered evidence that ghosts exist. There's a murder here, too. A debut for 28-year-old Harvard grad Scott. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-A techno-medical thriller of the genre made famous by Michael Crichton and Robin Cook, this imaginative story is nevertheless quite original. Physician Mike Ballantine witnesses the horrible bomb blast that kills his best friend, the governor of Massachusetts. Having lost his wife in a commuter plane crash two years before, Mike is ready to believe that he has succumbed to post-traumatic stress disorder when he hallucinates a horse wandering through the halls of Metro Hospital shortly after the blast. What he doesn't realize is that one of his graduate students, working in his neglected virology lab in Metro's basement, has made a scientific discovery of momentous importance: ghosts do exist. They result from infection by pieces of benign viruses (viroles) set free from the cells of a traumatically deceased person. A few susceptible people who are exposed to the trauma site can inhale viroles carrying genetic pieces of memory, thought, and visions from the dead that will be incorporated into their own mind. They will then "see" memories originally recorded in the mind of the departed. Of course, nefarious villains, surreptitiously aware of this groundbreaking study, will stop at nothing to get the completed research from Ballantine's lab. The body count piles up and the race is on. The science is feasible, the plot mostly plausible, and the action engrossing.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Teri Pace wanted to tear off her clothes and run naked through the basement laboratory. She wanted to leap into the air, scream at the top of her lungs, careen through Metro's hallways. Instead, she let out a tiny yelp of joy, then quickly looked over her shoulder to make sure she was still alone.     She turned back to the glass maze and stared down at the tiny white mouse. Sightless eyes stared back at her from behind twitching whiskers. She picked up the mouse in her hand, feeling the creature's lilliputian claws against her skin. Then she carefully placed the mouse back at the start of the maze.     Without thought, without flaw, the animal rushed through the tiny glass hallways, once again making all the correct turns, arriving at the end in record time. Teri sat down hard on a metal stool next to the maze, fighting to catch her breath. She had never expected the experiment to actually work .     She ran a hand through her tousled mop of auburn hair, forcing herself to calm down. There was still plenty of work left to do. She had to run the experiment a dozen more times. She had to prepare a paper on the results, something good enough for the hard-nosed editors at the major journals. She had to make sure she had covered every detail. "The particulars!" her mother used to shout at her. "Never forget the particulars!"     Suddenly, she started to laugh. She felt light-headed, like a diabetic on a sugar low. She thought about what her mother would say when she saw Teri's name in Science, Nature and Cell . When she saw her interviewed on Nightline, 60 Minutes , even Oprah .     She quickly shook the thoughts of her mother out of her mind; this was not about her . This was about a tiny white mouse and a scientific discovery that was going to change the world. A discovery so enormous, it was going to challenge fundamental beliefs and basic assumptions that stretched back to the beginning of time. A breakthrough so immense it would turn science upside down. Trembling, she rose from the stool, picked up the mouse, and started across the dimly lit basement lab.     For three years, this place had been her second home. The lab was a cinder-block rectangle, four thousand square feet lined with equipment cabinets, pewter sinks, test-tube racks, and sealed glass animal cages. Puke-green tiles covered most of the floor, and long fluorescent tubes bounced flickering orange light off the polished white walls.     Ballantine's Batcave, the graduate students called it. The underground lab presented a stark contrast to the shiny modern look of the hospital upstairs. Originally, the basement had been the site of Boston Metropolitan's pathology lab. Then the cinder-block cavern had slumbered unused as Metro brightened its image, clawing ever upward along the flat of Beacon Hill. Five years ago, in the midst of Metro's reconstruction, Dr. Ballantine had somehow convinced the hospital to let him use the space for his own virology lab. Since then, the lab's funding had remained steady, despite Dr. Ballantine's lack of publishable results.     Teri skirted a long row of sinks and arrived at the far corner of the lab, still gently clasping the mouse in both hands. A tall steel shelving unit rose up behind a large mahogany desk. The six shelves were cluttered with unmarked vials, Bunsen burners, boxes of latex gloves, and small-animal cages. Dr. Ballantine had loaned Teri the shelving unit for her personal use, and over the years she had developed a carefully determined sense of disorder. The clutter was actually a disguise, meant to further hide her efforts from Dr. Ballantine and the four other graduate students who worked in the Batcave. As far as anyone knew, Teri was just a quiet, almost painfully shy third-year Ph.D. virology candidate assisting Dr. Ballantine in his study of cytotoxic T cells.     She smiled as she carefully placed her mouse back in its cage on the top shelf. Next to the cage were two glass vials filled with thick, clear liquid. To the right of the vials stood a black cylinder, twelve inches tall, dangling a long electrical cord. Next to that, another wire mouse cage. Teri hadn't bothered to name the four mice inside the second cage, simply referring to them by the plastic tags on their tails: Mouse A, Mouse C, Mouse D, and Mouse E. The cage had once housed the entire alphabet. Before her experiment was finished, she was going to need at least a dozen more of the little critters.     That thought in mind, she turned away from the shelving unit and opened the top drawer of Dr. Ballantine's desk. She found the stack of equipment request forms and began scripting a viable story. Over the past three years, Dr. Ballantine's lab had been going through mice like popcorn, perhaps five dozen in the last five months alone.     As Teri worked on the form, a familiar hiccup echoed off the cinder-block walls, followed by a dull hum. Teri glanced at the metal ventilation cabinet that stood by the elevator on the other side of the lab. For years, the hum had been nothing but background noise, the sound of a complex system of rotating fans and mechanical filters. Now it was music, a wonderful symphony in her ears.     She finished filling out the request form and headed toward the elevator, her eyes still pinned to the humming ventilation cabinet. She hit the button for the elevator, then held one hand over the cabinet's vents, feeling the rush of warm air.     The Batcave was a Biosafety Level One lab, with its own self-contained oxygen recycling system. In accordance with Level One requirements, the sealed elevator was the only entrance to the lab, and the ventilation cabinet was the only source of fresh air. This system was primitive compared with the high-tech filtration units in place in the more modern virology labs upstairs--but that was par for the course where Dr. Ballantine was concerned. It was no secret what Metro's administration thought of Mike Ballantine--and Teri had serendipitously benefited from that resentment.     She had stumbled on the key to her experiment completely by mistake. She had been carrying a vial of her latest R-E solution past the ventilation cabinet when the elevator had suddenly whirred to life, signaling that someone was on the way down. Startled, she had spilled some of the R-E solution into the air vent. She had tried to clean the vent, but some of the transparent, viscous liquid had dripped inside the metal cabinet, making it nearly impossible.     The spill had occurred exactly three weeks ago. This morning, Mouse B had run the maze for the first time. Teri had a very good idea why the accidental spill had made the difference. It had to do with oxygen diffusion and the olfactory centers in the tiny mouse's brain. It would be an entire section in her paper, though the editors at Science would probably cut the breakthrough down to a single appendix entry.     When she finally told Dr. Ballantine about the spill, he would rebuke her for keeping it a secret. After all, she had put the entire lab at risk of inhaling an unknown substance. But she hadn't had a choice. She had been determined not to tell anyone about her experiment until she was ready.     Besides, there had been only one noticeable side effect to the R-E spill. Everyone who had spent significant time in the virus lab had come down with a slight cold.     Teri doubted Dr. Ballantine would be thinking about his trivial cough and stuffed nose when she showed him what she had accomplished. As a scientist and a doctor, he would grasp the significance of her work immediately. He would realize that in one sudden stroke, she had changed the future of science. He would know that in time, her work would overshadow everything else in the history of the profession, and change the lives and beliefs of every person on earth.     Her stomach flip-flopped as she pictured Dr. Ballantine's reaction to her revelations. His blue eyes would sparkle at her from beneath those wonderful brown locks, as his lips turned up at the corners--     Teri chided herself for thinking like such a fool. It was a schoolgirl crush--even if the schoolgirl was twenty-five and halfway to her Ph.D. Dr. Ballantine barely knew she existed. To him, she was just a quiet, green-eyed woman who puttered around behind him while he worked at his desk. She was young, pretty, with an athletic body, two legs, and appropriately perky breasts. But she had hardly spoken three words to him in as many years--in fact, she doubted he would even recognize her voice.     The elevator doors whiffed open, and Teri rushed into the carpeted cube, her stomach churning despite the thoughts running through her head. True, Dr. Ballantine had no reason to like her the way she liked him--not yet.     But would that all change when she showed him her mouse? Thirty seconds after the elevator doors slid shut, a brief whirring filled the deserted lab. A fluorescent light panel in the direct center of the lab's ceiling shivered, as tiny gears hidden inside the panel reacted to the commands of a computer chip roughly the size of an insect's brain.     A transparent hair-thin wire descended through a minuscule pore in the plastic panel. The wire consisted of two cylindrical fiber-optic cords supporting a perfectly concave lens one millimeter wide. The lens rotated in a silent 360-degree arc as the wire descended, capturing a three-dimensional video image of the deserted lab. A second computer chip, no bigger than the first, instantaneously converted the megabytes of digitized visual information into packages of light, which were in turn transmitted in continuous cone-shaped pulses through a fiber-optic antenna strung through the wall of the basement lab. Twelve miles away, a third computer chip reconverted the light-packaged information into digital bits. The bits were fed into a receiver attached to a Pentium processor, which analyzed the visual information, adding shadow and contrast. Seconds later, a crystal-clear picture of the basement lab appeared on a flat high-resolution screen located above the Pentium. As the concave lens revolved, the picture on the screen shifted, displaying more detail and depth.     The entire process continued for less than three minutes; then the tiny gears again whirred to life, and the transparent surveillance wire disappeared back into the fluorescent light panel.