[Robin Cook] hasn't forgotten the novelist's first rule: Every character has to want something. [Ashley Butler] wants to maintain his grip on health and power. [Daniel Lowell] wants wealth and fame. Lowell's lover, Dr. Stephanie D'Agostino, wants to distance herself from her family's ties to organized crime. D'Agostino's brother, Tony, has sunk $100,000 of his own money and $100,000 of the mob's into Lowell's company. Tony's indictment for racketeering has scared other investors away -- as has the opposition of those who view therapeutic cloning as tantamount to abortion. Yet if the company fails and the mob isn't repaid, Tony warns, somebody will get whacked.
The Mafia subplot is one of two large, smelly red herrings Cook drags across our path. The other is the Shroud of Turin. Butler, in a fit of megalomania, decides that the DNA in the stem cells that will be implanted in his brain has to come from Jesus Christ himself -- from the bloodstains on the shroud. More dickering ensues: Butler offers to introduce legislation to help shield the Catholic Church from sex-abuse lawsuits. Lowell and D'Agostino, convinced that the shroud is genuine, travel secretly to Italy to collect sample fibers.