He evokes the psychic force field of money and power as it warps the ethics even of distinguished, principled doctors and soldiers. And he captures the agonizing moment when truth tellers within an inflexible bureaucracy feel their organization turning on them, with the virulence of the immune system turning on a deadly germ.

His devotion to his characters is obvious throughout. He cares deeply about these people, and soon we do, too. Yet his portraits often seem constrained within narrow, shopworn categories. “In the Blood” is a whistle-blower story, an idea-that-changed-the-world story, a last-chance-at-redemption story and a rags-to-riches-American-dream story.

It is, ad nauseam, a brothers-in-arms story, whose likable soldiers revile the self-important brass but are devoted to “the kid in the ditch” — the common soldier in harm’s way. These crusty warriors address one another in ringing tones: “Son, I know you just came back and I can smell the combat on you,” the short, pugnacious maverick Marine Corps medic Tommy Eagles tells the short, pugnacious maverick Navy commander Timothy Coakley — squint and they could be the same character. “I’ve been there. I will pray for you.”

Barber seems so fond of certain figures that, at the close of his tale, he stops being critical of them. He reports that Hursey and Gullong cash out by selling Z-Medica, the company that manufactures their beloved QuikClot, to a private equity firm; Gullong spends his money on a beachfront property, a Florida condo and a million-dollar yacht, while Hursey bankrolls a university building with his name on it.

In 2020 the private equity firm flogged Z-Medica to a major medical device company — a company that, though the book doesn’t say so, has faced legal challenges of its own.

Tom Mueller’s latest book, “How to Make a Killing: Blood, Death and Dollars in American Medicine,” will be published in August.



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