MALPRACTICE by John R. Feegel


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Though not as steadily plotted or cleanly written as Feegel's previous thrillers (The Dance Card, etc.), this short novel of small-town malpractice and coverup is energized by Dr. F.'s usual gritty agenda: reluctant heroes, heinous goings-on, and deep-running corruption among the powers-that-be. Black teenager Franklin Pitts is dead after an appendectomy at the local hospital in rundown Pine Hill, Georgia. Official cause of death? A blood clot. But surgeon Joe Thatcher (a far-gone alcoholic), pathologist Billy Markham, and the hospital administrator all know the truth: the Pitts boy died of peritonitis caused by a clamp left inside after the surgery. So local lawyer Yancey Marshall, hired by Mrs. Pitts to get a clear explanation from the hospital, becomes suspicious when the records in the case seem to be faked or mysteriously missing. (Yancey's girlfriend Donna happens to be the hospital's medical librarian.) Non-liberal Yancey is no clichÉd crusader, however--a real plus--and it's only when the hospital's sleekly vile insurance company tricks Mrs. Pitts into signing a claims release (for $5000) that he gets angry and active: he sneakily solicits expert, local medical opinion about the real likely cause of death; and he gets some blackmail-worthy goods on the philandering, greedy, but essentially ethical pathologist. So far so good--even if this basic plot offers little that you might not see on a Quincy episode. But then, in the last 50 pages, Feegel unwisely escalates things into a somewhat gripping, ultimately ludicrous melodrama-thon: Donna is injured in an auto crash and must be operated on (over Yancey's protests) by falling-down-drunk Thatcher. . . who then runs amok with a shotgun. Still, despite this wayward finale and some lapses into amateurish prose (especially in the Yancey/Donna love scenes), Feegel delivers enough strong stuff here--authentically ghastly O.R. moments, cynically dark-humored dialogue, dust-real small-town atmosphere--to keep medical/suspense readers sufficiently scared and entertained.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1981
Publisher: New American Library