In his debut novel, Platt (Holy Economics, 2011) obliquely questions the Rev. Martin Luther King’s vision of equality with a story about an African-American baby’s death.
As the retired chief medical examiner of Summit County, Ohio, and a specialist in pediatric pathology, Platt is well-placed to spin a realistic medical case into a gripping courtroom drama. His novel, set in 2002, opens with two emergency medical technicians racing to a housing-project apartment to save a 6-week-old African-American boy named Elizer Marshall. The baby, who shows apparent signs of non-accidental, blunt head trauma, is dead by morning. Detectives decide they will need to take blood and urine samples from the boy’s parents—Will, an African-American man; and Eva, a Hispanic woman—to assess the likelihood of fetal alcohol syndrome and other abuse. The author’s comprehensive knowledge of anatomy, pathology and criminal law is evident in his detailed descriptions of a pediatric intensive care ward, a brain examination during autopsy, jury selection and cross-examination. For example, although most of the novel is told from a limited third-person perspective, Platt follows the jurors into seclusion to hear their deliberations. One key question finally emerges: Did the baby’s injuries result from forceful resuscitation, or are they proof of homicide? A clever twist ending will overturn readers’ ideas about who’s to blame for Elizer’s death. Parts of the book resemble a screenplay, particularly Chapter XXI, which is divided into “Scenes” labeled A through F. Indeed, the novel began life as a play, and this is reflected in its preference for dialogue over expository prose. However, despite the title, the book fails to contribute to the discourse about racial justice in America. Instead, it arbitrarily divides its characters into binary pairs, including one white and one black EMT (unsubtly named Tom Black), and one white and one black police detective. Also, although Will’s father presents abhorrent views—“Whitey is second class compared to us”—the book presents no voices of rebuttal. Will’s poetic cry for justice (“My God, My God. / Do Not Forsake Me. / For I Too Have a Dream / Like That of Martin Luther King, Jr.”) accounts for the title, but feels overblown.
A perfectly serviceable CSI-style forensic thriller, but its significance falls short of its title.