Voyager, £11.99 stg

Sometimes a fascination with death can take you too far from the living as Dr Joanna Lander discovers during her research into near-death experiences (NDEs) at the sprawling Mercy General Hospital. Confined to documenting the accounts of patients, Lander jumps at the chance to work with neurologist Richard Wright who has discovered a way of tricking the brain into believing it is having a NDE.

Through understanding how the dying process works, Wright hopes to be able to revive patients whose hearts stop and he believes that the NDEs may act as a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, volunteers are in short supply so Lander decides to undergo the manufactured NDEs herself, and discovers that her research has led her into deeper waters than she anticipated.

'Passage' is peopled with likable characters from an Alzheimer-stricken high-school teacher to nine year-old Maisie, the disaster obsessed heart-transplant patient. Unfortunately, the author's attempts to be smart wear thin at times (the too-frequently mentioned 'Flatliners' comparisons, Maisie's sweetness-and-light mother, an attractive nurse's attempts to engage the attentions of Dr Wright) and the pace lags about half way through. But it's still a good read – a science fiction novel for those who don't like sci-fi.

Caroline Hennessy