Long Life?: A cryonics courtroom thriller

(Originally published Nov. 11, 2009)

Next month, I’ll have lived in Phoenix for seven years. Those who know me well know that in many ways, I still consider St. Louis to be home. I’ll always root for the baseball Cardinals (and in a quirk of fate, I’ve been reunited with the football team I grew up with, now known as the Arizona Cardinals). I long for the Arch, the Zoo, toasted ravioli and, most of all, lifelong friends and business partners who still live near the Mississippi River.

I have to admit, though, that Phoenix has given me experiences I would never have had in St. Louis. Here I’m on the board of the Phoenix Zoo, for example. And here I’ve met some fascinating new friends, including Bob Begam, who has become a client as well.

Bob and I got to know each other through a book club I joined last year. I learned early on that he had lost his wife the previous year. Then I learned he was a founding partner of a prestigious Phoenix law firm, Begam & Marks. Then I learned he graduated from Yale, majoring in English as an undergraduate and receiving his law degree from there as well.

He came to Phoenix courtesy of the military, which sent him to Luke Air Force Base as a JAG lawyer. He and his wife, Helen, stayed in Phoenix and became highly active in local theater. Helen, a graduate of the Yale Drama School, starred in many local productions, and Bob directed more than 30 plays over the years.

In addition to all that, Bob has written two novels. The first, Fireball, was published by McGraw Hill in 1987. Now, Bob’s second novel, Long Life?, has been published, and it’s a fascinating courtroom thriller.

Long Life? came about after a member of the Ted Williams family approached Bob about getting involved in the family dispute over placing the baseball hero’s remains in cryonic suspension at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz. Bob didn’t sign up for the case, but he became fascinated by cryonics. Soon, he was crafting a fascinating tale, especially for those living in and around Phoenix. References to local restaurants, watering spots and landmarks abound. Don’t get me wrong, however. Whether you live in Phoenix or not, you won’t be able to put Long Life? down.

The book tells the story of cryonics expert Dr. Rebecca Adler, who agrees to freeze the body of a virile, 34-year-old AIDS patient. To help her patient, Adler performs a “pre-mortem” suspension, putting the patient into a cryonic state before he has been declared legally dead. The physicist requests the procedure to protect his body from the ravages of AIDS. He is convinced that, after a cure is found, he will be reanimated to live a rich, full life. The Maricopa County attorney’s office sees the matter differently. Chief prosecutor Scott Novak files first-degree murder charges and seeks the death penalty for Adler.

Famed New York trial lawyer Joe Purcell is asked to represent her. He hesitates to get involved in what appears to be a lost cause. Finally he agrees because, as he says, “This will be the first murder case in which there is only one issue: Is the victim dead?”

The book is an interesting examination of the scientific, religious, ethical and legal issues surrounding cryonics. You can learn more about it at Bob’s website.

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