In Janson’s (The Child in Our Hearts, 2012, etc.) first mystery, a pediatrician sued for malpractice finds himself at the epicenter of a far-reaching conspiracy.
Eastern Kentucky native Joe Nelson owes his medicine practice to a fortuitous accident: In his youth, he was a coal miner, and a roof collapse during a routine excavation left him trapped. Thanks to a courageous, quick-thinking doctor, Joe made it out—as an amputee, albeit, but still alive. Years later, he has paid that salvation forward by pursuing a career in pediatrics. All is well until 4-year-old Linda Murphy dies in his care, and the toxicologist’s report reveals an overdose of Lidocaine as the cause of death. Joe’s insistence that he provided the correct dosage pales in the face of a malpractice suit brought on by Linda Murphy’s extremely wealthy, powerful family. With his questionably competent defense attorney, an imminent but strangely amicable divorce from his wife, a blossoming romance and a determination to uncover the true circumstances of Linda’s death, Joe has his hands full. Snooping into medical records and investigating potential profiteers earns him enemies on all sides—the hospital, the courts, even the local police force—and sets into motion a race against time. Regrettably, the mystery at the heart of the novel is bordered by clumsy, often distracting syntax: “The server was there almost immediately as if he had been waiting for them to be ready to order, which he probably had been.” As often as the story hits its stride, it is mired by awkward turns of phrase, repetition—“The grounds were kept and lit well…They arrived at the plaque at the center of a well-lit area”—and bland dialogue. Janson’s experience as a physician shines through in the clinically written sections, particularly the court proceedings and explanations of medical procedures, which are professional, articulate and deftly handled. While the grand reveal satisfactorily ties numerous loose ends together, it’s diluted by its predictability; astute readers will likely guess (or at least suspect) the criminal mastermind a quarter of the way into the book.
A debut effort that’s ambitious in scope but often limited by its unsteady execution.