Woman doctor’s life spins out of control after receiving a poison pen letter: a third novel from pediatrician, memoirist, and storywriter Klass (Love and Modern Medicine, 2001, etc.).
Maggie is a neonatal specialist in a revered Boston hospital. Brought up by a single mother, Maggie has escaped the poverty and Christian fundamentalism of her childhood by maintaining an almost obsessive control over herself and the details of her life. Her work is intense and rewarding, and she’s up for promotion to an even more important position. She’s married to the saintly, ever-patient Dan, who works without personal ambition at a clinic for the indigent. Although disappointed that their attempts to conceive have failed, Dan and Maggie dote on each other in the way only childless couples can. Klass works a little too hard to let us know what a perfect, controlled life Maggie leads; there’s a tendency to repeat information from one chapter to the next about Maggie and Dan’s habits. One day, Maggie receives an anonymous hate letter in her immaculate office at the hospital, then her office is desecrated in a particularly nasty way. Soon, letters implying that she’s been involved in a child’s death, falsifying credentials, and abusing drugs appear on hospital walls where her patients’ parents can read them. As Maggie’s life starts to unravel, Klass does a powerful job of delineating the helplessness of someone faced with an anonymous threat. She does a weaker job with the personality of the doctor-villain whose identity she gives us early on. His motivations seem pat and his creepiness contrived, but Klass adds a clever twist when his medical instincts overtake his need for sick revenge. The hospital is predictably cowardly in the face of possible scandal, although the diligent outside investigator is the stuff mystery series are made of. The happy ending seems both tacked on and tacky.
Not perfect in its particulars but engrossing and tensely haunting nonetheless.