Substance of Abuse

By Dr. Mark Berman

What if the U.S. Congress considered legalizing drugs?

A prominent surgeon, DR. TONY RYAN, finds himself at the helm of the country's first experimental drug distribution program, which has been set up in Santa Barbara.

Two months into its uneventful operation, Ryan returns from a brief holiday to find not only the program suddenly on the brink of disaster, but himself perilously pitched into a high-stakes life-threatening attack.

On one hand, Substance of Abuse is a "Crichtonesque beach-reader" novel - an intriguing adventure from Santa Barbara to Rome. And, on the other hand, it has an original high-concept premise whose highly charged controversial nature will surely leave the reader much to think about long after the last page is turned.

Book Review from the Times Record:

Sexy Thriller Hooks Reader

Grade: B+
By Tina Dale

It's hard to believe "Substance of Abuse" is the first novel written by cosmetic surgeon Dr. Mark Berman of Santa Monica, Calif.

The controversial plot sets forth new ideas for fighting the war on the drugs, but the, suspenseful scenes take the focus off the political undertones to make for a thrilling read. This is probably the sexiest book rye read in a long time.

The story focuses on Dr. Tony Ryan. the director of an experimental, government-run, legal drug program, who just so happens to be a cosmetic surgeon in Santa Barbara, Calif. Though Berman lays out a plan for the legalization of narcotics as a means to win the drug war, the story is neither pro drugs nor a boring political narrative.

While several accidents, overdoses and mishaps make it look as though there are some big problems with the drug program, Ryan soon discovers the problem is much bigger than that. There's murder, conspiracy and danger with a tiny introduction to Plato thrown in for good measure.

The book drags a bit when Ryan reviews Senate hearings on the program and when the story is coming to a close. Although the set-up was necessary, I really didn't get that excited about the plot or the characters until about chapter seven. But then I was hooked.

I thoroughly enjoy a book that leaves me feeling a bit guilty not to mentioned tired in the morning when I realize how late I stayed up reading the night before. And this one did just that. This intricate plot, full of twists and betrayals, went beyond entertaining.

Most of Berman's characters were well-developed, although at times, a bit stereotypical. He left me confused on some motivations, although I realize some of that confusion was necessary for the plot.

I was also a bit confused when connections started to be made. One passage in particular involving the FBI seemed to contradict itself. That one scene was the weakest link in the book.

I'm not sure I agree with Berman's ideas on a legal drug program, but he definitely sets up an idea worth some thought. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Berman states that he is "not interested in taking drugs" or "seeing people have their lives consumed by drugs."

When he started writing the book, Berman had not personally experienced any of the drug-related violence that prompted his ideas. However, while he was writing the book both he and his wife were victims of drug-related crimes. Neither were injured, but Berman said both instances were perpetrated by individuals needing money to finance their drug deals.

"This was the very reason I took up writing this story, never thinking I would have two opportunities to see such behavior up close," Berman wrote.

"I am optimistic that if enough people think about the present drug wars, we might at least initiate a national dialogue and consider alternative solutions."

Whether the book spurs that or not, whether readers agree with his ideas or not, the book is still one breathless read.

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