Short story writer and retired physician Ellman (Let Me Tell You About Angela, 2015) offers a novel about a wisecracking medical resident.
The subtitle of this first-person narrative is “Medicine Murder Revenge,” which successfully summarizes the themes that the author weaves through the text. Readers first meet Tadeusz “Dr. Ted” Shluzkinski in the fall of 1960, when he’s severely beaten on the street by two thugs. One of them delivers a parting explanation: “That’s for Betty.” He’s referring to Betty Schmidt, a patient whom Ted treated in the Chicago hospital where he’s currently doing his residency. Betty died suddenly and unexpectedly one night the previous summer, and Ted is convinced that her abusive husband, Tim Schmidt, murdered her. He orders an autopsy over the husband’s strenuous objections. Although the coroner finds nothing suspicious, Ted is undeterred and decides to approach a police detective, Sgt. George Esposito, whom one of his patients, an attorney, recommended. George tells Ted to stay away from Tim, a bad guy who he says is “connected”: “So, watch your step. Doc, be careful. Be extra careful!” The ongoing relationship between Ted and George forms the nexus of the novel’s murder and revenge subplots. The bulk of the text, however, revels in hospital antics and internal politics, as well as medical diagnoses and treatments. The story’s pace sometimes becomes bogged down with heavy use of professional jargon and detailed descriptions of the minutiae of hospital life, such as the bullying of residents by Mrs. B., who manages the cafeteria; the quick sexual trysts among staff members in between patient evaluations; and the affectations of various hospital personnel. It also takes a while to acclimate to Ellman’s habit of navigating back and forth in time. That said, Ted is an engaging character, outwardly cocky while inwardly fully aware of his own hype. Although the author never builds serious suspense, he nonetheless manages to come up with a believable surprise ending.
A tale that should appeal to fans of medical fiction, particularly those who’ve undergone the real-life rigors of hospital training.