By: Barry Johnson
Publisher: Rocochi Ridge Publishing
Publication Date: September 2012
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: December 27, 2012
Barry Johnson’s debut novel, Unbridled Greed, addresses the hot (and utterly contemptuous) topic of health care fraud. There’s a lot more going on at the doctor’s office than a routine check up.
In the opening scene, at 10:40 a.m. on October 15th, hit man Fausto Guzman is introduced to the reader. Shortly thereafter, the reader is processing the outcome of Guzman’s successful hit—the killing and disposal of Republican Congressman Reuben Horowitz. Guzman is the perfect killer for the assignment—ghost-like and always successful at covering his tracks before he is in the wind again. This time, however, what he didn’t know was someone was watching…
The place is Chicago and the crime is the multi-billion dollar industry of medical billing fraud. The players are Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Investigator, Bryan Hampton, and Agent Ted Kucharski, member of Sidereal HealthCare’s Special Investigative Unit. Their assignment: expose and shut down a fraudulent medical insurance billing empire. The kingpin of the fraudulent ring is Dr. Hugh Patterson along with three associate practices strategically located around the Chicago Loop in the windy city. Hampton and Kucharski have built a strong case and are closing in fast. The only thing left to do is raid the clinics, gather the incriminating evidence and watch the domino effect of ultimate convictions ensue. Little did they know U.S. Attorney Albert Tacovic for the Northern Illinois District had other plans for their impending raid on Patterson’s operations …
When the best laid plans go completely haywire, the only option Hampton and Kucharski are left with is to disassemble the task force; not exactly how Hampton envisioned the last stretch of his DOJ career would play out. With too much time to reflect on the months of investigation and case building flushed down the tubes, opportunity knocks again for Hampton when Kucharski sets up a meeting with Davee Da Silva. It seems Da Silva has a vested interest in imploding the fraudulent medical ring too; but not in Chicago just yet. Convinced this is no coincidence and once Hampton hears Da Silva’s plan, maybe he was a little too quick to accept the imminent end of his career. As for Chicago, it was time to go. According to Da Silva, Las Vegas would be Hampton’s next stop on his mission.
I give Johnson props for selecting a relevant and complex plot in order to engage his reader. It is clear he is quite knowledgeable of his topic. However, he infused a little too much knowledgeable information and not enough intrigue which caused the story line to drag. The winning formula in a thriller is one where the reader is challenged to formulate and figure out the many twists and turns; only to be treated to the element of surprise when he or she realizes their conclusion was all wrong. In Johnson’s case, when his character Hampton was given a second opportunity to tackle the fraudulent ring, while it was the perfect opportunity to ramp the story and build to its end, he spent too much time digressing to the dynamics of what medical billing fraud entailed (and not enough time embellishing on the tenacity of his character and how he would - or would not - prevail). This is not to say Unbridled Greed is not a solid and action-packed debut thriller. Rather, it is a novel that could have benefitted far more with less telling and more showing.
Quill Says: The next time you go for that annual check up, you may want to take a closer look at your bill…