Strauss (The Real McCoy, 2003, etc.) departs from writing historically based novels with this contemporary family drama about a suspicion of child abuse.
Ad exec Josh Goldin rushes to the ER because Zack, his otherwise healthy eight-month-old son, inexplicably falls unconscious, his heart having stopped. By the time Josh arrives, Zack has stabilized, but Dr. Darlene Stokes orders diagnostic tests, since they don’t know what happened or why. Josh’s wife Dori, a former phlebotomist, charges that the tests are just a coverup for the hospital’s incompetence. She wants to take Zack home. Josh, usually the dominant partner in their marriage, sides with Dori. She is, after all, a medical professional. When the Goldins leave, Dr. Stokes calls the police, who return Zack to the hospital. The test result offer good but puzzling news: Nothing is wrong with Zack. Once their son is home, Josh redoubles his efforts as father and husband, and the Goldins eventually put the nightmare behind them…until Josh attends an annual sales conference. While Josh is gone, Zack again falls unconscious. At this point the reader learns what Dr. Stokes has begun to suspect: Dori is the cause of Zack’s emergencies. Before each incident, she strapped Zack to a “papoose board” which held Zack still so that Dori could draw enough blood to make him pass out. The novel becomes a pitched battle between Dr. Stokes, a black single mother of exceptional intelligence and integrity, who reports her suspicions of Munchausen-by-proxy to social services, and the Goldins, whose bulldog lawyer plants fear-and-smear newspaper articles about Dr. Stokes. Meanwhile, the hospital board assiduously protects itself from potential liability as the lawsuit becomes a cause célèbre on cable talk shows.
This unpleasant medical mystery cum courtroom drama cum mother-from-hell novel relies on a flat third-person narrator who reports events rather than animating them.