By: Stu Strumwasser
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Publication Date: May 2015
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: March 3, 2016
Strumwasser's debut novel sends a wake-up call about the lucrative underground world of the organ donor industry.
Forty-five-year-old Jack Trayner is a businessman, a cruise director in the Transplant Tourism industry. While the titles appear to be flashy, the truth is that Jack works on the black market, selling mostly kidneys. Jack rakes in a lot of cash, but to him it's not all about making money big bucks. Jack intrinsically believes that he is saving lives. His line of thinking drastically changes when he finds out that one of his former clients, who had just received a kidney transplant a month ago, dies. To further complicate matters, Jack receives a chilling response from the business contact who sold the kidney when Jack shares the information. Nonetheless, he attends the client's funeral, standing in the backdrop. And for the first time in eighteen years working in the industry, Jack realizes that he didn't save a soul, but rather he "played a part in destroying all of us."
The funeral is a poignant moment in Jack's life, enough that he seriously begins to think about getting out of the organ donor racket. Yet it's not until he visits one of the organ farms—more like a shantytown in South Africa—that he's totally convinced. Getting out of the industry is a dangerous move, especially since Jack is the best in the business. While ruminating on his exit strategy, Jack recalls his shady and painful past—his dysfunctional upbringing, drug dealing through law school, his unsuccessful love life, and how he shifts from practicing law to the black market when a buddy of his asks for Jack's assistance in finding a kidney. But amid his scheming, Jack's life takes yet another turn when a buyer demands a live heart donor for a dying AIDS patient, and the patient turns out to be none other than Jack's son's lover.
Stu Strumwasser weaves truth into his hardboiled-edge thriller. Divided into six parts, Strumwasser's plot zeros in on Jack, a seemingly cold and heartless man. Strumwasser portrays a man who is a victim of child abuse, and as a means of survival combines manipulation shrouded in apathy. Jack has a soft spot, which Strumwasser capitalizes on to shift his first person narrative into a different direction. Using a well-defined foiled yet sketchy cast, Strumwasser carefully develops the tender side of Jack's harsh character. Strumwasser keeps his plot flowing by throwing in plenty of twists and turns while alternating past and present scenes replete with Jack's thought processes, engaging character dialogue, romantic snippets, and factual information about the world-wide organ shortage crisis that, together, build up to one surprising ending.
Strumwasser closes his engaging plot with an author's note that includes a plea for readers to register to be an organ donor, a practical and efficient "three-pronged solution" (taken from his March 23, 2014 published article in Salon.com) to the organ shortage—"a problem that is quickly growing into a quiet epidemic," and websites for further information.
Quill says: Absolutely provocative, The Organ Broker is a must read by all!