The sudden death of an intern at a Nashville hospital in 1996 leads to speculations of murder and vengeance in Tulipan’s debut medical thriller.
Dying in the operating room, Jason “JT” Thomas doesn’t leave behind many mourners. The philandering intern boasted about his frequent escapades with nurses at Arcadia Medical Center, and sex with emergency room nurse Leslie Arnot is the reason he missed multiple pages during a shift, ultimately resulting in the death of a young girl named Jenny. But his death is largely the result of his blood not clotting, caused, Dr. Sam Johnson suspects, by a blood thinner. This merely suggests murder, but it seems like a sound notion when Leslie turns up dead from a possible injection of potassium chloride. Sam helps Detective Henry Baskin with theories—perhaps someone at the hospital contaminated a latex glove—until he realizes that the motive, means and opportunity all point to scrub nurse Jane, the mother of Jenny. Unfortunately, Sam has fallen in love with Jane. The doctor scrambles to turn police attention away from her while hoping to find his way to the truth. Tulipan’s novel is a solid thriller with an unambiguous, concise structure that efficiently builds tension. It opens on the day of JT’s death and is then split into three parts—a flashback showing the events leading to Jenny’s death; the discovery of further evidence against Jane, including her fingerprints found at Leslie’s apartment; and a murder trial. The story is imposing not by piling on the suspects and pieces of evidence but by continually re-examining the same suspect and evidence and viewing them under different lights: The blood thinner, warfarin, is also found in rat poison and, as the defense attorney implies, could have made contact with JT’s skin by accident. Tulipan is generally reliable at explaining medical parlance or equipment in layperson’s terms, similar to how the district attorney asks pathologist Linda Levine to do so in court; however, the scene in which Sam and JT perform a shuntogram on Jenny will have many readers scratching their heads. The author nevertheless excels in developing other pangs of drama, as when Baskin, hoping to get JT’s body exhumed, learns that the body was donated to science; JT’s parents threaten to file a civil suit; and Sam becomes so willing to help Jane that some of his actions may not be legal.
Medical thriller fans will appreciate the tantalizing plot and a markedly absorbing murder trial.