Capsule reviews

THE GUEST ROOM. By Chris Bohjalian. Doubleday. 314 pages. $25.95.

Richard’s wife, Kristin, is spending the night with their little daughter Melissa at her mother’s comfortable apartment in midtown Manhattan. She hopes the bachelor party for Richard’s brother Philip is going well back home in Westchester County. “There was probably going to be a stripper” and “a bunch of guys nearing middle age drinking beer and watching a stripper in a living room seemed downright innocuous,” she muses.

After receiving an assuring text from Richard that all was well and likely to end around midnight, Kristin goes to sleep.

Until, as Kristin knows “firsthand” that a telephone ringing “As 3 a.m. nears, though, she hears the “jarring ring of an old-fashioned telephone” in the Manhattan apartment, and she knows it is “the ring tone of calamity.” Indeed, it is a life-changing call.

Thus Bohjalian skillfully begins stacking the building blocks of “The Guest Room.” Alexandra is a Russian sex slave who recounts her disturbing story. It is tale readers will find difficult to put down. The contrast couldn’t be more stark as Richard’s and Kristin’s comfortable life turns into a horror story.

Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer in Charleston.

MERCY: A Novel. By Daniel Palmer and Michael Palmer. St. Martin’s Press. 384 pages. $27.99.

Michael Palmer’s son, Daniel, continues his father’s tradition of telling a compelling medical tale while also forcing the reader to question an ethical issue: the right-to-life and doctor-assisted suicide, with “Mercy.”

Dr. Julie Devereux has been advocating changing the laws to give patients the right to die with dignity, but finds someone close to her suddenly facing that very decision. Her fiancee is paralyzed in an accident and begins to contemplate whether he truly has a life anymore. He makes a decision, but appears to die shortly afterward from an undetected heart defect. The circumstances are suspicious enough that Julie becomes a prime suspect in his death.

Julie digs to prove that he didn’t want to die, and it wasn’t at her hand. As she begins to investigate, she learns of other cases where the victim with a possible right-to-life issue died under mysterious circumstances. Were the deaths natural or is there something more sinister at work?

Julie begins to question everything, including her own beliefs, as she battles to stay alive against a ruthless enemy who murders to relieve suffering.

Daniel Palmer has a gift for writing compelling thrillers involving realistic characters.

Reviewer Jeff Ayers writes for the Associated Press.