Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book reviews: Life Support and Bloodstream by Tess Gerritsen

Author Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children, live the way life should be™ (?) in Maine, and write intelligent medical thrillers. She’s now garnered the writing thing into a very successful second career: 20+ novels, some of them New York Times bestsellers. Lucky Tess!

The first one I read, Life Support, is actually her second suspense/thriller (her first, Harvest, was checked out of my local library). ER doc Toby Harper is a well-liked, capable, driver doctor, who prefers control in her professional life because caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother leaves her little semblance of control in her personal life. She stumbles upon what may be a virulent brain disease but, before she can get a handle on it, the patient, a confused and naked elderly man, disappears without a trace from her emergency room. When Toby discovers a second patient with similar symptoms, she is all of a sudden down the rabbit hole … and bodies start piling up. I liked this one quite a bit.

Bloodstream, Gerritsen’s third medical thriller – I do try to go in order, but these medical thrillers are stand-alones and there's no need to – follows a general practitioner, a widow “from away” who is trying to raise her troubled teenager in a stereotypical small Maine town. A rash of violence begins to course through the town’s children and the good doctor is in a race against time to figure out the cause, whether drugs (the logical choice for much of Maine), environmental contaminants or icky brain parasites. This book was rather weaker than Life Support, I thought. I didn’t think Gerritsen quite captured the tone of the town and things seemed to wrap up in a hurry.

These books were fun: quickly paced, many layered, fairly well plotted, full of smart-sounding medical stuff (but not to the point of incomprehensibility). Gerritsen doesn’t shy away from the gore either: in Life Support the characters spend a lot of time doing autopsies and performing bloody surgeries that go very, very wrong; in Bloodstream there are similar exsanguinary surgeries that seemed slightly out of place, as though there merely to up the gore factor. It’s been a while since I’ve read any medical thrillers and these were a nice re-entry to the genre.

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