In a new mystery from Cassella (Healer, 2010, etc.), the lives of a doctor and her critically injured patient intertwine in unexpected ways.
When the unconscious patient is brought into Dr. Charlotte’s intensive care unit, very few facts are known. The apparent victim of a hit-and-run along a rural Washington road, “Jane Doe” lapsed into a coma after emergency surgery and was airlifted to Charlotte’s hospital in Seattle. No family member has come forward to identify or make decisions for this Jane, and the police have no clues. Meanwhile, other characters take up the narrative in alternating chapters. Raney tells the story of her teenage friendship in the small town of Quentin, Wash., with Bo, a rich Seattleite whose parents have offloaded him with an aunt while they divorce. Eric, Dr. Charlotte’s new boyfriend, has, after a long apprenticeship, become a recognized author of upmarket science books; he’s currently contracted to write about in vitro fertilization. The stories of the three narrators intersect, as do the issues Cassella starkly delineates: the impact of poverty and class on health care choices, particularly when children are involved. Raney has a young son, Jake, who may or may not be Eric’s child, and Jake too suffers from a congenital neurological condition, in his case, undiagnosed and untreated. Despite the potential ruination of her own future with Eric, Dr. Charlotte embarks on a determined quest to solve the puzzle of how this Jane Doe found herself in her present condition.
Readers may well overlook Cassella’s frequently interjected bromides about love (“Is it a room inside your soul that opens when your lover enters?”) since this engaging medical mystery makes far more compelling points about economics and sociology.