Gripping Family Drama That Makes You Think; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

IT was the terrible plight of a teenage motorcycle accident victim that first started Robert Mawson thinking.

The boy was in a coma and the doctors said he was brain-dead but how could his family ever make the heart-rending decision to switch off his life-support system?

After all, there have been cases of so-called Persistent Vegetative State patients waking up months, even years, after they were written off.

Mawson began to think about the desperation of families who will go anywhere and try anything to save the life of a sick child, whatever the cost.

Then he turned his attention to all the controversial developments on the cutting edge of science - cloning, genetic manipulation and so many other issues that throw us into what he calls "panic management" mode.

The result of pondering on all these moral dilemmas is a compelling novel called The Lazarus Child (Bantam pounds 5.99) that shows just how a book can be popular and exciting and yet still tackle the big issues.

Seven-year-old Frankie is knocked down in a road accident and left in a deep coma. Her brother, who witnessed the accident and blames himself, is traumatised and almost as completely lost as the little girl.

Parents Jack and Alison, already separated after his fling with a secretary, are at loggerheads over what to do for the best.

The desperate battle to save both their children takes them to America and the controversial clinic run by Dr Elizabeth Chase. She is a doctor who has her own agenda for trying to help the lost children that conventional medicine has abandoned.

Her mission is to go into the dark depths of the coma and pull the victim back into the world of the living. Sometimes the price of failure is high and the law is hovering at her shoulder.

It all adds up to a highly original, gripping book.

Mawson's own journey to the top of the best-seller list has also been long and arduous.

The 43-year-old son of a doctor has been a technical journalist, an advertising copywriter and a pilot. He also flew airships, taking tourists aloft and sometimes working as an eye-in-the-sky security service, including overseeing two Olympic games and a G7 conference of world leaders.

Then the firm collapsed and he was made redundant.

Mawson, married with three children, found his personal life under great stress. He separated from his wife and that experience also went into the writing of the novel.

It's small wonder that movie companies are queueing up to buy the rights to a remarkable and timely story that touches on the worst nightmare of every parent and poses the kind of morality versus science questions that we have yet to answer. …