Visiting the doctor is a really interesting phenomenon. Apart from the odd power relationship, there’s a deep and private communication that goes on between doctor and patient. In fact, those communications are protected under privacy laws except under very specific and unusual circumstances. An appointment with a doctor can be routine or can be highly charged. Either way, it’s a part of life.
Doctor appointments can make very interesting plot moments in crime novels, too. They can serve to move a plot along, or to add character layers. They can be important aspects of a plot, too. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of others.
In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we are introduced to a dentist named Henry Morley. One particular morning, he has several patients, including Hercule Poirot. Late in the morning, he is shot in his surgery. Chief Inspector Japp investigates the case, and we soon learn that this could be a complicated situation. It seems that another of Morley’s patients that day was a powerful banker named Alistair Blunt. He’s made several enemies, and it’s not outrageous to believe that someone might take advantage of the vulnerability a person has while in the dentist’s chair. Then, another patient of Morley’s dies of an overdose of anaesthetic. And another goes missing. As though that’s not enough, Japp is pulled off the case, because it may have something to do with an espionage operative whose identity the Home Office needs to protect. But Poirot is not similarly restricted, and he continues to investigate. In the end, he finds that this case is both simpler and more complex than it seems. And it’s interesting to see how the different characters react to being in the doctor’s office. I see you, fans of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
One of the main plot lines in Ruth Rendell’s Simisola begins with a visit to a doctor. Inspector Reg Wexford visits his doctor, Raymond Akande. It’s a normal sort of visit – Wexford’s health isn’t in jeopardy. But not long afterwards, he gets a call from Akande. It seems that Akande’s daughter, Melanie, went missing after a visit to the local employment bureau, and she hasn’t been home since. At first, Wexford isn’t inclined to panic. Melanie is twenty-two – an adult who could have any number of reasons to go somewhere else for a few days. But Akande persuades Wexford to at least look into the matter. Not long afterwards, the woman with whom Melanie had her employment bureau appointment is found murdered. Then, a young woman is found dead in a local wood. At first, Wexford thinks it might be Melanie. It turns out to be someone else, though, and now Wexford has three difficult cases to solve.
Michael Robotham’s The Suspect introduces his sleuth, Dr. Joe O’Loughlin. He is a psychologist whose profession often gets him involved in cases. He also has Parkinson’s Disease, which means he goes for regular visits to a neurologist, Dr. Emlyn Robert ‘Jock’ Owens. Jock is a no-nonsense sort of a doctor, who knows his patient quite well. As a matter of fact, they mix socially; O’Loughlin’s wife, Julianne, even dated Owens at one point. It can be a tense relationship, especially when Julianne is discussed, or when Jock has bad news to share. But it’s also a really interesting look at one side of O’Loughlin’s character.
In Annie Hauxwell’s In Her Blood, we meet London investigator Catherine Berlin. Among other things, she is a registered heroin addict who’s supplied by Dr. George Lazenby under the registered addicts’ program. In one plot line of this novel, she goes to his office early one evening to keep a regular appointment. When she gets there, she finds that he’s been murdered, and she’s been set up as a likely suspect. What’s worse, with Lazenby dead, she now has no legal supply of heroin until she finds a new doctor under the program. This leaves her with only a week’s supply of the drug. This case is very probably related to another case Berlin is working. She’s been investigating a loan-shark operation run by Archie Doyle. Not long ago, she was working with an informant who called herself Juliet Bravo. Then, Bravo was murdered, and her body found in Limehouse Basin. Berlin wants to find out who that killer is, and how it’s related to Lazenby’s murder. But she’s going to have to act quickly, because there are some dangerous people who don’t want her to succeed.
And then there’s Eoin Colfer’s Plugged. Daniel McEvoy is ex-pat Irish, who worked for a time as a Middle East peacekeeper. Now, he works security at a sleazy nightclub called Slotz, in the fictional town of Cloisters, New Jersey. In one plot thread of this novel, he goes to visit his friend and hair replacement doctor, Zebulon ‘Zeb’ Kronski, whom he met while he was in the Middle East. While he’s waiting for Kronski, McEvoy encounters Macey Barrett, an ‘enforcer’ for local gangster Mike Madden. It’s obvious that something is going on between Madden and Kronski, but McEvoy doesn’t want to get involved in that mess. He has no choice, though, when Barrett tries to kill him, and his only option is to defend himself. Now, he’s got a tough, powerful gangster after him. What’s worse, Kronski’s gone missing. McEvoy will have to try to stay alive long enough to clear his name and find his friend.
Meetings in doctors’ offices can lead in all sorts of directions. And they’re a part of most of our lives. Little wonder that they show up as they do in crime fiction.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick’s Good Lovin’.