Friday, February 18, 2011

Diagnosis Death, by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.--Review

  Abingdon Press/United Methodist Publishing House, ISBN 9781426710216, 288 pp., April 2011

Elena Gardner is a young doctor, just finishing her residency in a distinguished Dallas hospital. She's also a young widow, whose husband Mark suffered an aneurysm that caused brain death. After struggling with the decision for weeks, Elena violates protocol by writing a Do Not Resuscitate order on his chart herself--and shortly thereafter, someone turns off Mark's respirator.

Elena thinks she may have done it herself, but she doesn't remember doing so. This is merely a private grief and mystery, however, until another patient, whose care she was involved in, dies in remarkably similar circumstances. Hospital officials conclude that, since both patients were brain-dead, what happened was possibly unethical but not a crime. With her residency just a few weeks from its end, though, and a senior hospital official up for a promotion, they're suddenly eager to have her out of Dallas so that, if an embarrassing pattern is developing, it won't be associated with their institution.

And so Elena finds herself signing on as the temporary, and hopefully permanent, associate of Dr. Cathy Sewell, in the alarmingly named city of Dainger, Texas. Dr. Sewell's pregnancy is near term, and whose practice is growing enough to support a second doctor even after she returns to work. Elena quickly finds she has not left her troubles behind her. The troubling weekly midnight phone calls that started after her husband's death continue. She gets anonymous notes that appear to be from the same source. She's making new friends and new enemies, and it's by no means clear who is who. Sheriff's deputy Frank Perrin seems friendly, pleasant, and helpful--but Cathy doesn't like him, and he seems almost disturbingly persistent. Dr. Marcus Bell is also a widower, and is interested in more than just friendship. A senior nurse at the local hospital has something painful in common with Elena: her husband is brain-dead and being kept alive on a respirator. The hospital administrator, Dr. Norman Godwin, is arrogant, abrupt, focused on the bottom line--and unexpectedly hostile.

Then another patient with brain damage, less severe and seemingly on the slow road to recovery, dies in frighteningly familiar circumstances. Elena has to sort out friend from foe, find out how her husband and the other patient in Dallas really died, and whether she really has killed three patients--or whether she has a dangerous enemy who has followed her from Dallas.

Elena and the other major characters are very nicely developed, interesting, and worth spending the time with. Some of the lesser but still important characters are a bit more two-dimensional, but not enough to detract from a well-plotted and solid mystery. It's also worth mentioning that the publisher bills this as Christian fiction. The Christian faith and beliefs of the characters flow naturally from who they are as people, and should be satisfying to those for whom this is a plus, and not intrusive or grafted on in a way that would be off-putting to those simply looking for a good mystery to engage the brain and the heart, and while away a few enjoyable hours.

Recommended.

I receive a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.