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Originally published Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 3:03 AM

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‘Gemini’: mysteries of love, identity and inheritance

Bainbridge Island author and anesthesiologist Carol Cassella’s fine third novel, “Gemini,” starts with an unconscious, unidentified woman in a Seattle hospital and expands into several mysteries of identify and inheritance. Cassella has several March readings in the Seattle area.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearances

Carol Cassella

The author of “Gemini” will appear at these area locations:

• At 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at the Eagle Harbor Book Co., 157 Winslow Way, Bainbridge Island; free (206-842-5332 or

• At 7 p.m. Monday, March 17, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., copresented by Seattle7 Writers, with a special guest appearance by the Rejections, who perform at 6:30 p.m.; free (206-624-6600 or

• At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at Liberty Bay Books, 18881 D Front St. N.E., Poulsbo; free (360-779-5909 or

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by Carol Cassella

Simon & Schuster, 337 pp., $25.99

In Carol Cassella’s fine third novel, “Gemini,” an unconscious “Jane Doe” is badly injured in a hit-and-run accident on the Olympic Peninsula. She is transported by helicopter to a Seattle hospital, and into the ICU of Dr. Charlotte Reese. The patient’s identity is just the first of several mysteries posed in this can’t-put-down novel.

In less than a decade, Cassella, a Seattle-area anesthesiologist, has produced three engrossing medical-drama novels (“Oxygen” in 2008 and “Healer” in 2010). “Gemini” is even better than the others for its depth and complexity. This is a riveting, suspenseful story, full of vivid characters and stirring reflections on medical and genetic issues.

As in her previous novels, Cassella’s protagonist is a doctor who questions whether her medical efforts are helping or hurting her patient. Charlotte wonders if her medical work is “an interminable battle against the will of the universe.”

This novel begins with two strands separated by 20 years: in the present, in Seattle, Charlotte tends to Jane Doe in the ICU, and confronts her own desire for a baby. Her partner, Eric, has a heritable genetic disease and has already undergone three brain surgeries.

The second strand is the story of Raney and Bo, 12-year-olds who become friends despite class differences. Raney, raised by her grandfather, loves to paint and roam unsupervised in the forests on the Olympic Peninsula. Bo is the son of rich and divorcing Seattle parents. He is staying with rural relatives for the summer. After that summer, Raney doesn’t see him again for some years. When she runs into him at 20, she learns that he has had seizures and a brain operation.

Intensely attracted to each other, but hampered by obstacles, they fall out of touch. When Raney and Bo finally have their fling, she has a boyfriend and he is a travel writer about to leave on a trip. He promises to come back to her, but he doesn’t, so she marries her boyfriend.

With the chapters alternating between Charlotte and Raney’s lives, it is clear early on that Raney is Charlotte’s Jane Doe. In a clever use of dramatic irony, the reader knows more about Raney than Charlotte does, and this heightens the stakes when Charlotte wonders what will happen if no one claims kinship with Jane Doe, if she survives but never recovers.

As Charlotte insists that her patient must be missed somewhere, their stories begin to fuse in a remarkable way, best left to the reader to discover. Another potent mystery arises regarding Raney’s 12-year-old son, and what should happen to him if she does not recover.

But Charlotte is not just a humble and compassionate doctor; she is an impatient woman with a biological clock ticking. During her courtship with Eric, he takes her sailing, which she does not really enjoy because it “took you nowhere and back again. It was too unproductive at the end of the day.”

She wonders whether this new relationship will be like sailing. This is a brilliant, thickening detail in characterization.

Cassella is a gifted writer, gorgeously animating her landscapes and the forces of nature, underlining her theme that even medicine cannot save her characters from mortality.

Wingate Packard is an English teacher and freelance writer.

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