Gotta Rush, Make it Urgent*

ParamedicsThey’re the first ones on the scene when there’s an accident or emergency. And very often they make split-second decisions that quite literally mean the difference between life and death. I’m talking of course of paramedics and EMTs. Today’s paramedics go through extensive training and are expected to update their skills regularly. Their work is critical and they have to do it under sometimes severe stress.

Since so much crime fiction involves emergencies, paramedics are an important part of the genre. In many crime novels (my own included), paramedics are mentioned, but not to any great extent. Quite often that’s because the focus of the novel is on other characters.

But there are plenty of novels where paramedics play a bit more of a role. For instance, in Tess Gerritsen’s Vanish, Weymouth (Massachusetts) Fire and Rescue is called to the scene when an unidentified young woman is pulled from Hingham Bay. They pronounce her dead and she’s taken to a local hospital. But later, when Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles prepares to end her work day, she’s startled to hear noises coming from the body bag containing the woman. She opens the bag and immediately alerts an emergency team when she sees that its occupant is alive. Later, the young woman leaves her hospital room and goes to the hospital’s Diagnostic Imagery Department, where she takes a group of people hostage. That group includes police officer Jane Rizzoli, who was there to have a pregnancy ultrasound test. One thread of this novel concerns the efforts to find out who this woman is and what she wants before anyone is hurt. And without spoiling the story, I can say that emergency rescue teams are part of that effort.

There are also, of course, novels and series that focus on paramedics. For example, in Jassy Mackenzie’s My Brother’s Keeper, we are introduced to paramedic Nick Kenyon. One night, he’s called to the scene of an automobile accident. There, he finds one critically injured passenger named Natasha, but no driver. On the way to the hospital, Natasha begs Nick to make a telephone call for her, and he agrees. What he doesn’t know is that the missing driver is part of a dangerous gang planning a major heist – and his brother Paul, recently released from prison, is the leader of that gang. What Nick does learn is that not long after she is rescued, Natasha is murdered in her hospital bed. As he gets more and more drawn into this case, he gets closer and closer to a deadly showdown with his brother.

Shawn Grady’s Tomorrow We Die features paramedic Jonathan Trestle. One day he and his partner are called to the scene when a man collapses on the street in downtown Reno. They’re working to give support when the man gives Trestle a note and begs him to

‘Give this to Martin.’

Unable to say anything else, he is rushed off in the ambulance. Later, Trestle goes to check on the victim, only to find that he pulled an IV tube out of his arm and left the hospital. There’s no clue to his whereabouts, and the only thing he’s left behind is a key. The note he gave to Trestle isn’t much help either, as it’s just a mishmash of scribbles and lines. But Trestle wants to do as he said he would do, find Martin – whoever that is – and deliver the note. That choice draws him into a strange mystery that turns deadly when he discovers that the key fits a local hotel room, and that his patient is in that room, murdered…

Annette Dashofy has created a series featuring paramedic Zoe Chambers. She lives and works in Vance Township, Pennsylvania. She’s also Deputy Coroner, so she gets involved in practically all of the untimely deaths in the area. Thus far, the series includes three books: Circle of Influence, Lost Legacy, and Bridges Burned.

Perhaps the best-known crime fiction series featuring paramedics is Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series. Marconi herself is a police detective with the New South Wales Police. However, every novel in this series also features paramedics who, to one extent or another, are involved in the plot. In Web of Deceit, for instance, paramedics Jane Koutofides and Alex Churchill are called to the scene of a motor accident. The victim, Marko Meixner, is unhurt, but they insist he go with them for a medical examination. Along the way, he says that he’s in danger and that they will be, too, if they spend any time with him. Still, they get him to the hospital and try to recommend him for a psychiatric evaluation. Marko leaves without treatment though. Later that same day, Marconi and her team are alerted when Marko is hit by an oncoming commuter train. It might be suicide, but when Marconi learns what Meixner said to the paramedics, she comes to suspect murder. Both teams are drawn into the investigation, as is the case with all of Howell’s novels.

Interestingly enough, Howell and Grady both trained as paramedics and worked in that field for a number of years. So they draw on their experiences as they write. And if you’re interested in not-so-crime-fictional stories of paramedics, there’s also Peter Canning’s novels. He, too, is a paramedic who’s woven his experiences into his work.

It’s not easy to be a paramedic or EMT. Those people see some awful, awful things, and they are often under untenable pressure. But they save lives. And, speaking strictly for myself, I like it when novels present them in positive lights, even if they have faults and make mistakes.


NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Foreigner’s Urgent.


Filed under Annette Dashofy, Jassy Mackenzie, Katherine Howell, Peter Canning, Shawn Grady, Tess Gerritsen

18 responses to “Gotta Rush, Make it Urgent*

  1. Tess Gerritsen’s novel was also an episode of Rizzoli and Isles. It was a good one, too. Have all her novels been adapted to TV, do you know? I’m guilty of not giving them the credit they deserve, too.

    • I honestly don’t know, Sue, whether all of the Rizzoli/Isles novels have been adapted. If someone else knows, please let us know. I honestly don’t think anyone has the time to keep track of every series…

  2. Can’t think of any paramedics, but will mention instead the firefighters in a book I read on your excellent recommendation – Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House. A big fire sets the plot going, and the firefighters feature….

    • I really like the look that novel gives us at firefighters and the firefighting life, Moira – thanks. And of course, firefighters have their own difficult and very dangerous work to do. I like it when they’re portrayed positively, too – even if they do have faults.

  3. Re Rizzoli and Isles – I am not an expert but from what I have read and watched it seems like most of the books have been adapted in some way
    (except most recent) and included in the tv series – what a successful series – over 74 episodes aired to date. I actually like both the book and the TV series – for different reasons, the books are much more intense, gripping – the TV series – more entertainment and characters I have grown to enjoy.
    Thanks for another great post Margot.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Carol. And thanks for the info on the TV series. It is interesting how one can enjoy both a book series and a TV series, even if they are different. If both are well done, both can appeal.

  4. Col

    I read and enjoyed Dashofy’s first book – Circle of Influence but I probably won’t have time to continue with the series.

  5. What a great post Margot. I was an Ambulance Tech (EMT) for three years and in emergency healthcare for eight. I saw some things that will never leave me. Part of the reason I left was stress. I have the utmost respect for my old colleagues who continue to do this every day. We were often frustrated that the newspapers would report incidents as fire service being the heros with no mention of us. I’m not saying the fire service should not be mentioned but what about the EMT (me on some occassions) sat in the back of the car ensuring the patients neck and back are safe and reassuring them as the roof of the car is cut off so we can get them the care they need! (Sorry the soap box is being confiscated as we speak) 🙂

  6. In a recent read of mine; If She Did It, much of the legal arguments were on whether a victim of an awful attack’s nods to the emergency responders could be used as evidence. So glad you used this post to give these often forgotten professionals a mention.

    • Oh, yes, Cleo, I remember your fine review of If She Did It. And that really is an interesting question of whether a nod to the first responders counts as evidence. I hadn’t thought about that before. As to first responders such as paramedics, I think they do heroic work. Mentioning them is the very least I can do.

  7. Kathy D.

    I like the EMT’s in Katherine Howell’s mysteries. They’re very realistically portrayed, not as perfect people. It would be nice if her books, set in Australia, were more readily available over here so more readers could be exposed to her characters.
    Oh, when I think of EMT’s, it’s with gratitude — they’ve helped me — and sadness. A friend’s son was an EMT on 9/11 and lost many of his team members at the World Trade Center. He gave grief counseling to many others and attended several funerals and then quit. He just couldn’t take the losses and grief experienced by so many people, and the loss of his colleagues.

    • I can well imagine that your friend’s son reached his limit, Kathy. Paramedics and EMTs see so many terrible thing; sometimes they give their lives, too.. It’s enough to wear anyone down.
      Katherine Howell’s novels really are well-written, I agree. I’d love to see them more widely available in the US too.

  8. You have named several series here that I want to read or am reading. Vanish is the next book I have to read in the Gerritsen series. I do like the Katherine Howell series, although I have problems finding copies. My husband has the first Dashofy book in that series but has not read it yet. I did not realize it featured a paramedic. Need to get to all of those.

    • Tracy – I’ll be interested in know what you think of Vanish when you get to it. And I know exactly what you mean about getting hold of Howell’s books. It’s a series I like an awful lot; but as you say, it sometimes takes a real effort to get those novels. I’d love it if there were an easier distribution policy.

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