The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is in the closing weeks of our dangerous trip through the letters. Thanks as ever go to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for keeping us all together and safe – well, to this point anyway… ;-) X marks the spot where we’ve stopped this week. The X-El Health Centre, that is. Oh, no need to worry; everyone’s just fine. But the good folks at X-El were kind enough to invite us for a tour, since so many crime fiction novels take place in medical facilities. Everyone’s interested in seeing what really goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in such places, and is getting questions ready. While the others are deciding what to ask, I’ll make my contribution for this stop: X-Rays and other medical procedures.
Most health care professionals work very hard to ensure that all goes well during any procedure. But you never know what can happen even if there’s no malicious intent. And when there is, well, anything is possible. Just have a look at these examples from crime fiction and you’ll see what I mean.
In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigate the shooting death of a dentist Henry Morley. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why anyone would want to kill him, as he had no obvious enemies and no fortune to leave. One possibility is that someone was trying to get to one of Morley’s patients Alistair Blunt, and that makes sense. Blunt is a powerful banker who’s made several political enemies. But then, one of Morley’s other patients Mr. Amberiotis is found dead of an overdose of anaesthetic. So another possibility is that Morley made a tragic mistake with the amount of anaesthetic he gave his patient during the procedure, and killed himself as a result. Then another of Morley’s patients disappears. Now it’s clear that much more is going on at Henry Morley’s surgery than anyone thought possible…
Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger takes place mostly at Heron Park Hospital, which has been converted to a military facility for wartime use. Postman Jospeh Higgins has been brought to the hospital with a broken femur. He’s scheduled for a fairly routine procedure in which his leg will be set and treated. The operation turns out to be anything but routine though, and Higgins dies during the surgery. At first, his death is put down to tragic accident. Inspector Cockrill of the Kent County Police is called in to make an official report, and it’s not long before he begins to wonder about Higgins’ death. First Higgins’ widow suggests he was murdered, then other little hints surface. One night at a party, Sister Marion Bates has too much to drink and blurts out that she knows Higgins was murdered. She also says she knows how it was done. Later that night, she is found stabbed in the operating theatre and her body displayed in a very theatrical fashion. Now it’s clearer than ever to Cockrill that Higgins was murdered, and he slowly finds out what the connections were between all of the suspects and Higgins, and he gets to the truth about the killer.
MP Sir Derek O’Callaghan finds out how dangerous medical procedures can be in Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder. He’s about to introduce the Anarchy Bill, which would allow for strong action against those identified as anarchists. This of course earns him some strong support, but at the same time, it makes him some powerful enemies. Sir Derek also makes personal enemies. For instance, he has a short fling with a nurse Jane Harden, who isn’t nearly as willing to pass the whole thing off as he is. And one of her admirers is Sir Derek’s own physician Sir John Phillips. When Sir Derek has a severe case of abdominal pain, he is rushed at his wife’s insistence to Sir John’s private nursing home, where he undergoes surgery. When he dies during the procedure, it’s thought at first that this was a tragic but accidental death. But soon enough, Sir Roderick Alleyn begins to suspect otherwise and starts a more serious investigation. And a reconstruction of the surgical procedure helps Alleyn figure exactly who killed the victim and how.
In Michael Crichton’s A Case of Need, which he wrote as Jeffery Hudson, Boston pathologist Dr. John Berry gets mixed up in a very dangerous case. His good friend Albert Lee has been arrested for performing a then-illegal abortion on Karen Randall. The procedure went wrong and the patient died of complications. What’s more, Karen Randall was the daughter of J.D. Randall, one of the most influential doctors at Boston’s Memorial Hospital, where both Berry and Lee work. Lee insists that he’s innocent and is being framed because he’s Asian-American. Berry isn’t sure of that, but he does know that there are some questions about what really happened. There is a great deal of pressure to let Lee be the scapegoat for this death, but Berry is loyal to his friend and what’s more, he’s scientifically interested in what happened. He begins to investigate and finds out that Karen had a secret life quite apart from her life as the ‘blueblood’ daughter of a powerful doctor. He also finds out that this case is mired in power politics and cover-ups. In the end, Berry uncovers what really happened to the victim, but not before he himself becomes a target.
A good deal of the action in Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds takes place at the Löwander Hospital, a private facility. One night there’s a blackout at the hospital during which one of the nurses Marianne Svärd is murdered. What’s more, the blackout has cut off the respirator providing oxygen to one of the patients Nils Peterzén. He’d been a patient of special concern anyway, because there were complications in the operation he had. The Göteborg Violent Crimes Unit is looking into the nurse’s murder and the patient’s death when another nurse Linda Svensson disappears. Her body is later found in an unused attic of the hospital, in the same place where, fifty years earlier, another nurse hung herself. Now the team has to find out who would have wanted to kill Peterzén and the two nurses.
You see? Surgical procedures usually save lives. But they aren’t always safe. And did you notice that I didn’t mention any of the many medical thrillers in which surgical or after-surgery procedures go murderously wrong. Too easy! ;-) Now, if you’re ready, we’ll head over to the health centre. Won’t it be fascinating to see some of what they do there???