Florida Weekly raves about Come Home

Remember 2011, the year of the Arab Spring? That turmoil in the Middle East provides a backdrop for Patricia Gussin’s fast-paced thriller, Come Home.

Plastic surgeon Ahmed Masud, middle son in a wealthy Egyptian family, is called back to Cairo from his home in the U.S. to help prepare for his family’s future after the Mubarak regime collapses. Their wealth derives favor from Mubarak’s son, who has handed them an Egyptian cotton empire. Also, Ahmed’s parents wish to see his 5-year-old son, Alex. Succumbing to their pressure, and unsettled by medical malpractice lawsuits, Ahmed steals Alex away to Cairo, rashly jeopardizing his marriage and the American Dream lifestyle he and his wife, also a plastic surgeon, have shared.

Readers will be puzzled by Ahmed’s sudden sense of family duty, as was his wife, Dr. Nicole Nelson, who is outraged and crushed by his behavior. Wanting her son back, she rallies the support of her twin sister Natalie and their accomplished, successful brothers.

Then a second crisis hits Natalie, who is in charge of a major program at a large pharmaceutical company. Its cancer drug has tested well and is saving lives with the promise of saving many more. However, people are dying — of constipation. The FDA insists that this serious problem be cleared up. The drug itself is not deadly; rather, the painkillers prescribed to lessen the patients’ suffering are causing the problem. Her career in the balance, Natalie has a difficult time juggling the needs of her company and her desire to aide her sister who is reeling from Ahmed’s behavior. Natalie, however, is up to the task.

The Nelson family hires a major security agency to work on rescuing Alex. The chief of the security team has extensive connections and immediately puts them to use.

The plot runs back and forth among happenings in Egypt, Philadelphia, Uruguay, Belgium and Liberia. The Masud family is under great stress, and Ahmed’s older and younger brothers are power-crazed psychopaths driven to extremes by the threats to the elite Mubarak establishment and by their own greed. There is a race to solve the pharma problem, another to control and relocate the Masud family, and through it all, the chase after Nicole’s missing son.

The author creates some interesting symmetries in the character blocks. The Nelson family has three sons and two daughters, and so does the Masud family. In the Nelson family, all three children are successful in a variety of ways, with the women having prestigious careers. The two Masud daughters seem more highly respected than one would expect in a society in which women seem limited by design. Just as Ahmed’s career as a surgeon is in jeopardy, Rob Johnson — Natalie’s husband — is struggling with a failed business. This leaves each sister with similar additional worries and responsibilities.

Constantly exciting, Come Home is filled with detailed information. We get an inside look at the drug industry, the security business, plastic surgery and, though with less detail, the Egyptian cotton industry. The characters are in and out of various countries, the airports that serve them and the airplanes — mostly private — that whiz them about. All is portrayed with vivid detail.

Similarly, the inner details of characterization are convincingly drawn: the balance of confidence and self-doubt, fear and bravado, hope and despair.

Though we understand the pressures on Ahmed’s brothers and the specific causes of their destructive behavior, they seem a bit overdrawn. These are people without any redeeming qualities, and that absence makes them less credible.

All in all, Ms. Gussin delivers an amazing ride with this original, suspenseful and high-powered story.