03 July 2012

Sinister medicine

Medical thriller | Robin Cook | Fatal Cure

Here are the promised mutterings about the Robin Cook bestseller. I reread Fatal Cure a few weeks ago. It was a very fast re-read, while searching for the other book I was reading then (which was finally found under a sofa cushion). I'd planned to look up just a few pages, but ended up reading almost the whole book again. Sigh. I should be less easily distracted, but it's not my fault.

Robin Cook sprang upon our attention in the 70s, coming up with one best-seller after another. Mostly, the protagonist of the books was a young woman doctor, facing some or the other prejudice (sometimes, extreme prejudice!) and a mystery. There would be some life-or-death situation, medicine, more medicine, friends, supporters, evil villains, you name it, basically the paradigmatic medical thriller. As a result, I was firmly convinced the writer was a woman, and poutily refused to believe that he was, in fact, a man after all.

And, despite the change in technologies and many more writers entering this field, Robin Cook remained a name to conjure with.

Now, looking back with a more jaundiced eye, I feel the characters in the books were less solid than I'd originally thought, and the writing was more simplistic than simple. Or maybe the editors felt less confident in tackling a Big Name author as the bestsellers piled up.

Anyway, this one starts with a bang. Para three onwards:
Part of Sam's good fortune had always been his health, yet at half past four on February seventeenth, something strange began to happen. Numerous water molecules within many of his cells began to split apart into two fragments: a relatively inoffensive hydrogen atom and a highly reactive, viciously destructive hydroxyl free radical.
As these molecular events transpired, Sam's cellular defenses were activated. But on this particular day those defenses against free radicals were quickly exhausted; even the antioxidant vitamins E, C, and beta carotene which he diligently took each day could not stem the sudden, overwhelming tide.
That's actually the key to the whole mystery. If you know what the diagnosis is, you can work out the who, why, and how of the rest of the story as the rest of the clues come up. But you can't, can you? Even if you are a doctor. Robin Cook specialises in the obscure medical fact and the complex interconnections of hospitals and doctors and the entire ecosystem. You think it's a spoiler? Hey, it's paragraphs 3 and 4 of the whole book! Blame Cook, not me.

So, you have new doctors Angela and David Wilson joining a town hospital after getting sick of the big city. (This part is very reminiscent of Grisham's The Firm in how the new recruits are wooed). Their paradise gets its first jolt when a missing man turns up dead and buried in their new house. Then David's patients start dying despite all his very best efforts, just like those of his suicide predecessor. And Angela's boss starts harassing her. The more they probe, the more the locals close ranks against them.

Despite some clunky scenes every now and then, the book pushes on relentlessly to its inevitable conclusion. (Actually, I don't believe that people are so grimly decent and polite as American novelists make them out to be. But that's a quibble.)

To be honest, the story is better than I'm letting on, and the writing is, well, Robin Cook. An easy read for a lazy Sunday or two. If you like medical thrillers, this is a shoo-in.

No comments:

Post a comment