Crisis by Robin Cook

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Crisis by Robin Cook

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Category: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Robin Cook meets John Grisham half way in this shoddily put together and too long medical-cum-courtroom thriller which will provide a few hours of harmless entertainment to devout fans but is far from the best in the airport novel class nor even amongst Cook's books.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 350 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Pan Books
ISBN: 978-0330445528

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A mid-life crisis seems to have worked out well for Dr. Craig Bowman: not only he is, at long last, practising medicine in the manner he always believed it should be practiced, thanks to his newly acquired concierge practice, but he's also conducting real, valuable research; has time to regularly frequent the gym, symphonic concerts and art galleries and he replaced his wife with a sharp, young and sexy lover. Life couldn't be better – but then an evening house-call to a hypochondriac patient results in a disaster threatening his professional reputation and his whole life as it is.

An unexpected malpractice suit brings out the worst in Craig and although his estranged wife agrees to support him throughout, things look very bleak indeed until her brother, soon to be married New York Medical examiner Jack Stapleton, flies over to Boston to help. His suggestion of exhumation and autopsy starts a sequence of surprising events which culminate in the final resolution which turns the case on its head.

Cook started to write to popularise medical issues and each of his novels has one of those at heart. In case of Crisis it's again an issue of medicine management, and specifically of so called 'concierge practices' in which patients gain access to special customer service (including the, critical to the plot, house-calls) for an annual retainer fee (on top of normal medical costs) and which thus allows the doctors to devote much more time and attention to each of them, at the cost of vastly reducing the numbers served.

Cook can certainly plot and Crisis, despite all its failings, remains a reasonably exciting page turner to the very last one. There are several sub plots and numerous red-herrings and quite a bit of exciting suspense fueled mostly by the time pressure in the form of the looming end of the trial and even more looming wedding of Jack Stapleton.

The character of Craig Bowman was drawn fairly well: an arrogant, self-assured and self-absorbed, extremely competent and competitive, narcissistic doctor plunged into depression and self doubt by unexpected questioning of his professional judgement and the trail risking his whole reputation.

Unfortunately, his is the only half-developed character. All the others were uniformly flat, and, apart from Jack (from whose viewpoint most of the novel is narrated and who has more than one, if clumsily shown, dimension) are verging on caricature. We have the sensible, grown-up, humane therapist wife, the mouthy and crude girlfriend, the sleazy ambulance-chasing Italian lawyer for the plaintiff with a bunch of Mafia-like hangers-on, the conceited Boston-Brahmin lawyer for the defence, the no-nonsense Black judge, and so on.

The plot had several holes and lose plot-ends which even at the very end remained unresolved (in fact, I had a feeling that the author didn't know what the resolution was going to be as he was writing).

The writing was clumsy at best and the text was unnecessarily padded with long passages of no relevance to the plot whatsoever. It's possible that Mr Cook is paid by word-count, but Crisis would have been a much better book had the page count been reduced by a fifth, or even more. The most annoying were recurring laborious descriptions of Jack's driving in Boston: I was waiting for them to have any relevance to anything in the plot or characterisation, but there was none. I suspect the intention could have been to provide local colour, but it didn't work: they were just boring.

Even at his best Cook has a wooden ear for dialogue but the extensive and frequent use of psychobbable terms not only in conversations in which Craig's psychologist wife participated but also in general narration seemed particularly stilted and patronising: a novel is not a psychiatric diagnosis and should show characters through their behaviour and inner workings, not label them as having risk taking tendencies or exhibiting avoidance behaviours.

Stereotypes abound not only in characterisation but in the novel's attitudes to privatised medicine, malpractice litigation, certain ethnic groups, Boston itself and even smoking and coffee-drinking. The book concludes with a short polemic regarding the crisis in American medicine in general as exemplified by concierge practices in particular, and this essay is the best written and best thought out part of the book, even though Cook's proposed solutions are far from radical. The idea that medicine could be publicly funded and give each patient as much time as needed, which are grasped even by my struggling Scottish NHS GP practice which allows patients to schedule double length appointments if they wish, doesn't seem to even cross his mind.

Still, as far as pot-boilers go, Crisis is only slightly worse than Cook's average offerings and thus scores two and a half stars out of five (make it three for fans). In 1983, he wrote a novel titled Godplayer which partially explored similar themes to Crisis and was much shorter, neater and better plotted – seek it out if you like medical thrillers but are unimpressed by this one.

For a better medical thriller we can cautiously recommend The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer.

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