Today I’m going to try and talk you into two things: audio books and medical thrillers. Because I just happen to be reviewing the audio version of a medical thriller: Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons. Convenient, eh?
The first medical thriller I ever read was Coma by Robin Cook. I’m guessing I’m not the only one. I wanted to be a doctor when I was a teenager and I devoured several other Robin Cook novels as well as Michael Crichton’s excellent memoir Travels which has large sections on his medical training.
For thrillers to work you need to have stakes and fear and mystery. And if you’ve ever been to a hospital you know there’s plenty of all that. We understand so little of what doctors do, we hand over so much to them, and most of us are absolutely terrified through the entire process.
I spent the last few years as a spouse observing real-life residency in a big hospital, so now I tend to be picky about my medical thrillers just like I’m picky about my legal thrillers after my time in the courtroom. I allow some wiggle room for plot, but I want it to feel real and authentic or else it’s too distracting for me to hand myself over to the book and get lost.
I admit to being a little skeptical when Macmillan audio offered me a review copy of Kelly Parsons’ medical thriller. But I was willing to give it a go when I saw that Parsons is himself a board-certified urologist. I wanted to see if he’d get the details right. And he did.
Doing Harm follows Steve Mitchell, chief resident of Urology at the fictitious University Hospital. It’s a difficult job and tends to attract difficult people. The stereotypes about surgeons are not so far off and Steve is what you’d expect: cocky, ambitious, sure of himself even when he has no right to be. He’s overworked and sleep-deprived, and his home life with his wife who left her high-powered job to stay home with their two young daughters is strained. When the book opened with a scene of Steve sipping coffee with his junior resident in the hospital cafeteria getting ready for the morning rounds, I felt pretty sure I was in good hands.
I also really appreciated how Parsons didn’t talk down to his readers about the tricky medical stuff. He explained cases in a lot of detail to help you follow along and understand what was happening with different patients.
As for the plot, well, it is a thriller. And when Steve’s patients start dying when they shouldn’t and he gets pinned with the blame he starts to wonder if there’s some kind of foul play is involved. (Spoiler alert: there is.)
Honestly, the plot does get a little crazy but that’s to be expected with thrillers. And the thing I found most unbelievable was that Steve and his wife lived in a single family home in the Boston area. Dude, who can afford that on a resident’s salary??
I listened to Doing Harm as an audiobook, one of my great pleasures. Depending on what’s going on in my life I either do audiobooks in the car (here in Boston it takes me 30 minutes to go anywhere, I finished the book in a week) or on my iPod for public transit. I like breaking up my day and decompressing instead of getting anxious about traffic. If I have an audiobook on my iPad I also tend to turn it on while I do dishes or clean house. If I exercised (back in the day…) I’d listen on the elliptical machine. I know some people like quiet, but I like being able to devote my brain to something enjoyable in a time when it would normally be getting hung up on all the things I have going on.
The narrator of Doing Harm, Robert Petkoff, was a solid reader. Expressive voice, soothing tone, didn’t try too hard with voices–something I always appreciate. And exciting books are the best audiobooks since you pay more attention and get less distracted. A win all around.
Oh, and if you’re not friends with me on Goodreads yet, you should be! Keep up with all my reviews there, even the ones I don’t get on the blog.