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Is the public ready for an exciting thriller about terrorism, drug counterfeiting, valiant FDA agents, and glamorous women who invite pharma CEOs to come up and look at their drug patents? Sure. Maybe someone should write one.
I have to confess to an inordinate fondness for trashy thrillers. So when the story broke about how a consultant to PhRMA had commissioned—and then tried to kill—a novel about drug counterfeiting and terrorism, my first thought wasn't "What idiot thought of this?" but "I wonder if it's any good?" And so, God help me, I read it. Lest you the same mistake, let me spare you with this plot summary of The Karasik Conspiracy.
Here's the story. Ken Karasik has a secret: Though he appears to be a garden-variety Catholic-American billionaire entrepreneur and CEO, he's really a Bosnian Muslim with a grudge against the United States. He runs guns and sponsors the occasional assassination back home, paying for it out of his lucrative business in substandard drugs. Yes, Ken is a pharma guy, one who learned early that there's no point in coping with the old-boys' club of the FDA when there's big bucks to be made in the pharma paradises of Eastern Europe and Africa—and in peddling counterfeit drugs via an Internet pharmacy he secretly owns.
To improve conditions in the Balkans, Karasik plans to kill a half million Americans in a terrorist attack. (Why so many? Well, you want to really make the government sympathetic to your cause.) Karasik employs a devious strategy to draw suspicion away from himself: Rather than blow something up or poison the drinking water, he decides to sell tainted drugs through his own Internet pharmacy. And to really fool everyone, the drug he selects to taint is one he holds the patent on. Brilliant.
With his friend Ben Opperman, a consultant in corporate security (that is, murder and blackmail), Karasik sets to work. Fortunately, he already owns a secret pharmaceutical research facility with an underground prison area for testing fatal drugs on derelicts.
Meanwhile, PharmCorp, a drug giant, decides it needs to carry out a tainted-drug terrorist attack to fight drug importation. When it casts about for a suitable outsource, it settles on—you guessed it—Ben Opperman. No problem, says Ben, neglecting to mention that (a) that he's planning to kill 100 times as many people as they want to kill, and (b) the antidote to the tainted drug is a PharmCorp product.
The rest is a bit of a blur. The beautiful Alexa Bart has caught wind of the plot. She's already angry at Karasik—presumably because he amputated her father's hand to keep him from revealing the deadly side effects of one of Karasik's drugs. Now, she is carrying out a secret affair with Opperman to get information, which she passes along to a young Chinese-American FBI agent named (honest) Barry Weiner. But Weiner's sister is having an affair with Karasik, so the CEO knows all. Some Third World pharmaceutical plants get blown up. A bunch of people are subjected to "corporate security." Three or four coincidences later, we're done.
Here's my favorite part: In this book, if a CEO glares at a subordinate and says, "Take care of this," 15 or 20 minutes later, there's a corpse.
It's an appealing way to get rid of a problem. For instance, I think of Billy Tauzin, the head of PhRMA, who no doubt is wondering how the hell his organization got involved in this amazing embarrassment. Maybe you should try it, Billy. Scowl and mutter, "Take care of this," then stalk out of the office, preferably to have a secret love affair with, I don't know, maybe a gorgeous, previously unknown Chinese-American younger sister of Mark McClellan, or something. Then phone in later to make sure someone hauls the bodies away. It works—or so I've read.