Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday's Thugs Guest Post: Villains in Medical Mysteries and Thrillers

No, I didn't write this book.

Hello! I'm Sarah Glenn, guest posting today on Thursday's Thugs. If you'd like to know more about me, check out my blog or the bottom of this page.

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I like medical mysteries. I've watched everything from Marcus Welby to House, MD. I've read everything from Coma to A Heartbeat Away. I'm not the only one, either, as sales figures and TV rating attest. Sickness and death come to us all. Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers are the police - and sometimes detectives - who identify and battle the enemy.

The hero of a medical mystery is usually a physician or a nurse. I did read Pharmacology is Murder from Dirk Wyle, but that's the only pharmacy-oriented mystery I believe I've ever seen (feel free to recommend others). The author is frequently a member of the same profession as the hero. Medical mystery is a subgenre where Mary Sue is expected, and often preferred by the reader. The villains in these novels can come out of a wider selection of professions, but they tend to fall into a group of specific tropes.

Big Business: HMOs and Big Pharma are soulless, greedy entities whose qualities extend to their flesh-and-blood representatives. Neonates in the NICU cost too much money, so the HMO in The Provider by David Shobin finds a vile way of removing them from the caseload. Our Hero must figure out what's going on and stop it.

Medicine Gone Wrong: Medicine is being misused or has gone awry. The first book I read from Robin Cook, Mortal Fear, hooked me with its answer for why salmon die after they spawn. In Acceptable Risk (also by Cook), a scientist tests the psychotropic properties of a mold by injecting himself and other people in his program with the mold. Bad idea? Oh, yeah. I think that Tess Gerritsen provides one of the most jarring perversions of medicine in Life Support. Truly horrible - but I couldn't set the book down. As a side note: most medical novels that involve Science Gone Wrong should carry a gross-out warning.

Serial Scientist: Someone is killing people via medical means to get their jollies. Contagion by Robin Cook, possibly my favorite medical thriller of all time, has an antagonist who loves collecting deadly viruses because -well- he likes collecting deadly viruses. Naturally, he must infect a few people so he can see them at play. Jack Stapleton, forensic pathologist, is the only one who recognizes that a conspiracy is afoot. One of the other villain types on this list usually exploits the serial scientist for his/her own agenda. 

Terrorists and the Military: Two sides of the same coin - medicine offers a strategic advantage. Good guys and bad guys both start to get ideas when Dr. Wonderful or Serial Scientist comes up with a supersoldier serum/really scary way to kill people.

The Patient Who Won't Take No for an Answer: Dr. Wonderful must treat a VIP/deranged powerful lunatic - or else. Like the Serial Scientist, often involves one of the other tropes. Michael Palmer's The Patient, for example, is a terrorist who will do horrible things to his hostages unless the heroine removes his inoperable tumor.

One of Us: A doctor or nurse is behind the crimes. The reasons can vary from revenge to mercy. Robin Cook combined this with an Unreliable Narrator in one of his novels, but telling you its name would spoil the story for you.

Do you think I've covered them all? Do you have better examples than I do for these types? If so, let me know. I'm always looking for new material to read.


Sarah Glenn has a B.S. in Journalism. She's worked as an art intern at the billboard company, as an NCIC operator for her local police department, and as a teaching assistant for medical terminology. She currently works in continuing healthcare education.

Sarah's first novel, All This and Family, Too, is the story of a lesbian vampire who moves into a gated community and discovers the true meaning of horror. Will she survive the experience with the mixed blessing of a loving but dysfunctional family?

1 comment:

jennymilch said...

Robin Cook is one of the more chilling writers I've ever encountered--especially his early work. I don't know some of the other examples you name, but will check them out...