Category Archives: Robin Cook

And Though She’s Not Really Ill, There’s a Little Yellow Pill*

Most of us would probably agree that what have sometimes been called ‘street drugs’ (heroin, for instance) are dangerous and just as well illegal. Certainly, they’ve wreaked havoc on innumerable families. And, of course, crime fiction is full of references to those sorts of drugs and the trade in them.

It’s sometimes not as clear-cut with other sorts of drugs, though. For instance, people with certain mental and emotional illnesses benefit greatly from certain drugs. There are other people, too, such as people with certain learning and attention disabilities, who can benefit from certain medications. It’s not always an easy question what role those drugs should play, and people have very different opinions on the topic.

That question comes up in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see how the answer to it has changed over time as public and professional views on the topic change. And even today, there isn’t consensus. There rarely is with complex issues that don’t have easy answers.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that he is a user of both morphine and cocaine. He doesn’t use drugs for fun, and he doesn’t deal in them. Rather, his drug use reflects the views of his generation. More than one easily-available medication of that time contained cocaine or heroin, and people saw those drugs as perfectly legitimate. Dr. Watson disapproves of Holmes’ use of those drugs, but he doesn’t make much headway in getting his friend to stop.

There’s an interesting discussion of barbiturate use in Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies. In one plot thread, we are introduced to American actress Carlotta Adams. She’s quite the sensation of the day, with a one-person impersonation show. She’s quite gifted, too, and popular. One night, she apparently takes an overdose of Veronal and is found dead the next morning. At first, it’s put down to a tragic accident. At the time, plenty of people take sleeping medicine (it’s actually mentioned in more than one of Christie’s stories). So, no-one thinks much of it. And yet, the dead woman’s maid swears she wasn’t a regular drug user. And it turns out that this overdose was far from accidental. Hercule Poirot connects this murder to the stabbing murder of wealthy, unpleasant Lord Edgware, and finds the surprising link between them. On the one hand, a local doctor expresses his strong disapproval of drug use:
 

‘‘Why these girls must have drugs, I can’t think.’’
 

On the other hand, it’s not an unusual thing to use powerful barbiturates.

In Barbara Vine’s (AKA Ruth Rendell) The Minotaur, we meet Kerstin Kvist, a Swedish nurse who’d decided to move to England to be closer to her lover, Mark Douglas. She accepts a job with the Cosway family, where her duty will be to look after thirty-nine-year-old John Cosway, who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia. On the surface, the job looks like exactly the right choice for Kerstin. But all too soon, she begins to suspect that all is not what it seems. For one thing, the family still seems to be living in the Victorian Era, which is odd in itself. Also, family matriarch Mrs. Cosway has given strict instructions that her son is to be kept heavily medicated. Kerstin doesn’t think he needs that much medication; so, bit by bit, she reduces his dosages without telling anyone. Her decision has tragic consequences, which she documents in a diary that she keeps.

One of the ongoing debates in the world of education, especially special education, is how much (if any) medication children should be given when they are diagnosed with attention and other learning disorders. It’s not an easy question. It’s addressed a bit in Jonathan Kellerman’s When the Bough Breaks, in which we first meet child psychologist Alex Delaware. One day, he gets a visit from his friend, LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. It seems that a psychiatrist named Morton Handler and his lover, Elena Gutierrez, have been brutally murdered. The only witness is seven-year-old Melody Quinn. Getting any information from her is going to be difficult, though. For one thing, she’s a child, with a child’s perspective. For another, she’s on heavy medication for ADHD and other learning issues. Sturgis is hoping that Delaware will be able to communicate with the child and find out whatever information she has. Delaware is reluctant to take on this task, but he agrees. He soon finds, though, that it’s all but impossible to have any meaningful conversation with Melody. The child’s doctor, Dr. Lionel Towle, refuses to reduce her medication, so Delaware convinces her mother to let him reduce it. At first, it seems that Melody might open up and trust Delaware. Very soon, though, she begins to have severe nightmares. That’s enough for her mother and doctor to bar Delaware from seeing her again. By this time, though, Delaware is curious about the case, so he works with Sturgis to find out the truth.

Several medical thrillers, such as those by Robin Cook, also explore questions around the ethics of medication. In Acceptable Risk, for instance, a new line of psychotropic drugs is being developed, and the result turns out to be disastrous. One of the issues Cook raises is how much pressure pharmaceutical companies should put on researchers to develop new medications. Another is what the limits of such research should be, especially if the result could potentially be helpful to millions of people.

These aren’t easy questions. Nor are other questions about pharmaceuticals and medications. Attitudes towards them have changed as time has gone by, and we see both that complexity and those changes in crime fiction. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Barbara Vine, Jonathan Kellerman, Robin Cook

Just One More Link to the Chain*

Whenever the police are faced with multiple murders, especially similar sorts of murders, they try to look for links among the victims. There’s almost always some connection among the victims, and if the police can find that link, they can often also find the killer. So, part of investigating multiple murders is tracing the victims’ last days and weeks to see if there’s a common thread.

We see that part of a police investigation in lots of crime fiction – more than there is space for me mention here. But a few examples should suffice to show how the sleuth goes about trying to find those links. And sometimes, they are surprising.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, for instance, Hercule Poirot begins to receive a series of cryptic notes, warning him of murders that will occur, and giving the name of the town where the killing will take place. Not long after each letter, there is a murder, and a body discovered, in the town the killer has mentioned. An ABC railway guide is discovered near each body, but that clue isn’t very helpful. And nothing else, other than the letters to Poirot, seems to link the victims. They didn’t know each other, they didn’t live in the same place or go to the same school. It creates a very difficult puzzle for Poirot and the police. In the end, though, Poirot discovers what really links the murders. Once he does, he knows who committed them.

Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murders features her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In the novel, Kilbourn’s daughter, Mieka, discovers the body of Bernice Morin in a city trash bin. At first, the police think that Bernice was killed by someone the police have dubbed the ‘Little Flower’ killer. But then, there’s another tragedy. Theresa Desjalier, the former girlfriend of Kilbourn’s son, Peter, dies in what looks like a drowning accident. That death turns out to be murder, though, and it’s linked to Bernice’s murder, as well as to other incidents in the novel. Once Kilbourn discovers what links everything, she’s able to get to the root of some very dark truths.

In Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs, Chief Inspector William Wisting and his team are faced with a baffling case. A left foot clad in a training shoe has washed ashore near the Norwegian town of Stevern. Very soon afterwards, another foot is discovered. Then another. Very soon, all sorts of wild speculations start to circulate, including the possibility that a psychopathic serial killer is stalking the area. There are other possibilities, too, none of which put the local residents at ease. The police try to link the deaths by searching missing person reports. They discover that three of the four missing people were connected with a local elder care facility. The fourth lived in a house that belonged to another resident who died just before the others went missing.  It’s soon clear that these people are somehow linked to the missing feet, and Wisting and his team work to find out what, exactly, is the history behind these deaths.

Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House is the story of a series of deaths, and the link among them. The first is of successful real-estate broker Hans Vannerberg. The second is of a prostitute named Ann-Kristin Widell. Then, Lise-Lott Nilsson, a working-class homemaker, is murdered. Stockholm Chief Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his team believe that the murders might be linked; but on the surface, the victims have nothing in common. Then, it comes out that all of the victims were forty-four years old. That doesn’t seem to make sense as a motive or link, but Sjöberg has to start somewhere. Gradually, the victim’s lives are traced, and the team members discover what links them. And that leads to the killer.

In D.S. Nelson’s Model For Murder, retired milliner Blake Heatherington gets involved in a bizarre series of murders in the village of Tuesbury. First, newsagent Harold Slater is murdered. Then, Mr. Davies, the greengrocer; James Dockerty, the local bookie; Albert Pane, the baker; and Mr. Rawlinson, the butcher, are also killed. None of the victims seemed to have enemies, and none had a fortune to leave. So, at first, there doesn’t seem to be any motive. And, although all of the victims had local businesses, there wasn’t anything else that really linked them. Is it possible that someone is targeting the village? It doesn’t seem likely, since other business owners are not killed. What’s more, these killings do not seem haphazard. Tuesbury takes great pride in its miniature ‘model village.’ But someone seems to be defacing it. Before each murder, a cross is marked on the miniature of that victim’s business on the model village. And the statuette representing each victim goes missing. Heatherington is sure that something links those victims, and he slowly begins to put the pieces together. Oh, and I have it good authority that Blake Heatherington will be back in another mystery…

Medical thrillers such as Michael Palmer’s and Robin Cook’s often feature plots that focus on finding a link among medical cases. And that makes sense, since that’s what real-life medical experts do when they’re trying to find and stop outbreaks of illness. If the sleuth can find out what the victims of an illness have in common (e.g. where they ate, where they stayed), then the cause of the illness is easier to identify, and other deaths might be prevented. And if the deaths are deliberate, then the person responsible can be caught.

Finding the link or links among a set of victims can be difficult. And sometimes, the real link isn’t apparent right away. But it can be the key to solving the mystery when the sleuth is looking into multiple deaths.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Alarm’s Tell Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carin Gerhardsen, D.S. Nelson, Gail Bowen, Jørn Lier Horst, Michael Palmer, Robin Cook

Poison is the Wind That Blows*

As this is posted, it’s 55 years since the first publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It was a very influential indictment of the pesticide industry, and of those who accepted that industry’s claims without researching them. Carson also laid out the consequences for the environment of using pesticides and other toxins indiscriminately.

Since that time, many governments have made an effort to reduce or eliminate dangerous chemicals and other toxins that threaten the environment. And Carson is by no means the only one to have called attention to this very real risk. She wrote non-fiction, but there are also plenty of fiction writers who’ve addressed this issue.

In many ways, it’s harder for fiction writers to write about threats to the environment. Most readers don’t want ‘preaching’ in their fiction. Nor do they want to be made to feel guilty as they read. They want good stories that engage them, and well-drawn characters. That said, though, there are authors who’ve balanced telling stories with making a point about the environment.

In one of Robin Cook’s early efforts, Fever, Dr. Charles Martel is working on a very promising cancer study at the Weinberger Institute. The company authorities, though, want him to work on a new product, Canceran. Martel isn’t convinced that Canceran is effective, but the company needs government approval of the drug to put it on solid financial footing. So, Martel is pulled from his own research, and told to work on Canceran studies. He agrees, but in secret, continues his own research. Then, his daughter, Michelle, is diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia. Now, Martel works desperately on his own studies, to try to find a treatment that will help Michelle. He also searches for any information he can find about this particular form of leukemia. That’s when he discovers that a powerful company has been dumping toxic chemicals into a nearby river. Martel tries to bring the company’s activities out into the open and stop them. But he’s up against wealthy and well-connected people. And he’s running out of time if he’s to save his daughter.

Fans of Donna Leon’s work will know that her sleuth, Venice police detective Guido Brunetti, often finds himself up against companies that allow toxic chemicals into public water, soil, and so on. For example, in Through a Glass, Darkly, he investigates the death of Giorgio Tassini, who was night watchman at one of Venice’s glass blowing factories. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But Brunetti soon suspects otherwise. It comes out that he accused his employer and other such factories of dumping toxic waste into the local water. In fact, he cited that dumping as the cause of his daughter’s array of special needs. Now, Brunetti and his team look more closely at the industry, and try to find if Tassini was telling the truth. If he was, it’s very likely that someone in the industry was responsible for his death.

Carl Hiaasen takes an interesting (and funny – it is Hiaasen) perspective on illegal and dangerous chemical dumping in Skinny Dip. In the novel, we are introduced to Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone. He is, by background, a marine biologist, who’s hired by agribusiness owner Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Perrone’s task will be to show that Hammernut’s business does not pollute the environment or change the quality of the local water. Hammernut’s not looking to be a good global citizen; he just wants the ‘rubber stamp’ he needs to continue doing business as he is, and keep government authorities and environmentalists away. And Perrone is the perfect person to do the job. He has no professional integrity, and is willing to do whatever his new boss wants, because the price is right. And he’s invented a way to make water studies look ‘clean,’ even if they aren’t. Then, Perrone’s wife, Joey, finds out what her husband’s doing. She threatens to go to the authorities, and Perrone knows he has to act fast. So, he invites her on a romantic, ‘just the two of us’ cruise of the Everglades, to celebrate their anniversary. While they’re on the cruise, Perrone pushes his wife overboard. He believes he’s killed Joey, but he’s forgotten that she’s a champion swimmer. Joey doesn’t die, but is rescued by former copper Mick Stranahan. Together they concoct a plan to rattle Perrone and make him admit that he tried to kill his wife. The more he tries to cover everything up, the more Broward County police detective Karl Rolvaag suspects that he’s guilty.

In both Black Water Rising and Pleasantville, Attica Locke tells the story of Houston-area lawyer Jay Porter. In both novels, he gets involved in murder investigations that lead to the very top of the local corporate ladders. As he does, he finds that, in both cases, the companies involved are linked to some very corrupt activity that has a real impact on the environment. It wasn’t what Porter intended to do with his life, but he finds himself tangling with some well-connected enemies in these novels.

And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. In that novel, legendary environmentalist Jay Duggan has been working with a Los Angeles-based watchdog group called the Millbrook Foundation. They’re concerned about the forthcoming release of a new, genetically-modified, seed coating. Its manufacturer, a company called Vestco, claims that it will do much to end world hunger. But Millbrook has grave doubts about the company’s claims. They’re not successful in preventing Vestco from planning the release, though, and Duggan decides to take this opportunity to retire and return to his native New Zealand. He invites two work friends, Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT director Matthew Liddell, to join him there for a short visit before they get back to work. The three have already left Los Angeles when word comes that a Vestco employee named Henry Beck has been murdered. Duggan, Taylor and Liddell are being framed for the murder, so when they arrive in Auckland, they’re considered international fugitives. Now, they’re in a race against time (and several forces, both police and otherwise) to stop the seed coating from actually being released, clear their names, and find out the truth about Beck’s death.

Rachel Carson was well known for speaking out against the use and misuse of toxic chemicals and other pollutants. But she’s not the only one who’s done so. There are plenty of real-life and fictional characters who’ve also addressed that problem. When it’s handled so that it doesn’t come across as preaching, it can make for a compelling context for a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).

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Filed under Attica Locke, Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Geoffrey Robert, Rachel Carson, Robin Cook

People Livin’ in Competition*

A recent post from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, has got me thinking about competitiveness. Bill’s post, which you really should read, discusses competitiveness in attorneys. His point, which is very well-taken, is that trial lawyers have to be competitive. Otherwise, they don’t keep the ‘fire’ they need to do all of the work that’s involved in preparing for a trial and seeing it through.

There are many, many legal mysteries that bear him out, too. In John Grisham’s A Time To Kill, William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, and Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, to name just three, we see examples of attorneys who take on difficult cases – and want to win. There are far too many more examples of such novels for me to mention in this one post, so I won’t.

There’s plenty of competitiveness in other crime fiction, too, and it can add a healthy dose of character development, suspense, and plot to a novel. And, since there’s competitiveness in many different professions, the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to integrating it into a story.

Competitiveness is certainly important in the world of athletics. That’s a major part of the plot in Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Devon Knox has rare gymnastic talent, and her parents, Katie and Eric, want to nurture it. So, when gymnastics coach Teddy Balfour approaches them with a proposition, they’re happy to listen:
 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up]  and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’
 

Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (which might not have been an accident) occurs, and changes everything. Devon is gifted, but the question becomes: how far are she and her family willing to go to get to the Olympics? After all, there are only a limited number of young people who can join the US team. So, when one person earns a place, it often means others lose.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry series also explores athletic competitiveness (and for the matter of that, journalistic competitiveness as well). Like her creator, Henry is a sportswriter. She works for the Toronto Planet. Henry especially follows the doings of the Toronto Titans baseball team, so she goes along with them on ‘away’ tours, attends the home games, and gets locker-room interviews with players, coaching staff and the like. When the team is in a slump, it’s devastating. When the team does well, it’s euphoric. These players work hard and train intensively to go as far as they can in the World Series competition. Gordon doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a mystery series, and the murder plots dominate the books. But the books also give readers a look at what it’s like to be Major League Baseball athlete. It’s not a life for those who aren’t competitive. Neither is the life of those who write and publish stories about sports.

Business can be very competitive, too. In most industries, there’s a finite pool of customers. So, companies vie to get as much of their business as possible. And sometimes, that competitiveness can be deadly. In Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Contagion, for instance, we learn about a major competition between two insurance giants: AmeriCare and National Health. That competition becomes important when a virulent strain of influenza seems to be the cause of a series of deaths at Manhattan General Hospital. Medical examiners Dr. Jack Stapleton and Dr. Laurie Montgomery try to find out what’s causing the virus. The hospital’s authorities are interested in keeping the whole matter as quiet as possible, mostly to protect the institution’s image. But Stapleton in particular wants to whatever it takes, regardless of unpleasant publicity, to prevent more deaths. When it comes out that Manhattan General is affiliated with AmeriCares, the question becomes: did someone at National Health have something to do with these deaths, with the aim of discrediting the competition?

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide deals with the competitive world of the beauty pageant circuit. In it, wealthy pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke is murdered during a charity art auction being held at her home. The most likely suspect is local artist Sara Taylor, who had a public argument with the victim shortly before the murder. But Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu, is sure that she’s not guilty. So, she sets out to clear Sara’s name and find out who the real killer is. There are plenty of suspects, too, as Tristan was both malicious and vindictive. And, for the contestants in the pageant, and their families, there’s an awful lot at stake. The beauty pageant life is demanding, expensive, stressful and time-consuming. You don’t stay in it long if you have no sense of competitiveness.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that there’s a lot of competitiveness in the academic world, too. Many academic mysteries have plots that involve competition for scholarships/bursaries, prizes, academic jobs, funding and so on. It’s a demanding life that takes a lot of time and effort. Just to give one example, Christine Poulson’s Cassandra James novels take place in the context of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, where James heads the English Literature Department. One of the sub-plots in the first of this series, Murder is Academic, concerns funding for the program. Each department’s funding is based on its performance in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). There’s a lot of competition for finite funding, and James knows that she will have to ensure that all of the faculty’s scholarship (including her own) is as impressive as possible. That in itself is stressful. At the same time, she’s caught up in the investigation of the murder of her predecessor, Margaret Joplin. Admittedly, getting funding isn’t the reason for the murder. But it does add to the tension in the novel. And it’s a realistic look at one way in which competition works in academia.

Bill is right that being competitive is important if you’re going to win your case in a trial. It’s also an important personality trait in other fields, too. So it’s little wonder it figures so much in crime fiction. Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Bill’s blog. Thoughtful reviews and commentary await you there!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boston’s Peace of Mind.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Grisham, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams, Robert Rotenberg, Robin Cook, William Deverell

As a Restaurant Inspector It’s a Long Lonesome Road*

There’s an interesting (if small) plot thread in Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police. The small French town of St. Denis prides itself on its good food; it is, after all, in the food-famous Périgord. And, for as long as anyone can remember, there’s been a weekly market where the local residents get their fresh bread, cheese, and other items. These people know how to prepare, cook, sell, and store food. So, no-one is exactly pleased that EU inspectors have taken an interest in the market, and plan to apply EU rules to the food that’s bought and sold there. Local Chief of Police Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges is sworn to uphold the law; and in most cases, he believes in being law-abiding. At the same time, he’s a gastronome himself, and understands exactly how the citizens he serves feel about the EU health inspectors. So, he looks the other way when a few of the citizens find their own approach to preventing what they see as EU ‘meddling.’

In the main, though, most people agree that public health is a serious and important matter, and that there needs to be a way to ensure that any threats to public health are eliminated. Such inspections are thankless jobs, though. No company wants its operations interrupted, and making sure that everything is up to code can be expensive. And companies, hospitals, and the like don’t want to fail inspections. So, there’s a lot of pressure on anyone in that business.

The San Francisco Department of Health figures into Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson’s The Nightmare Factor. In that novel, we are introduced to Dr. Calvin Doohan, a transplant from Scotland. He’s working on some research for the World Health Organization (WHO) when the city is hit with a number of cases of virulent, flu-like illness. Each case seems to end in death, and doctors are hard-pressed to isolate the cause. Doohan volunteers his services to San Francisco’s Board of Health, and soon finds himself working with Dr. Suzanne Synge, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s soon established that the illness can be traced to people who attended a convention at the Hotel Cordoba, so several interested parties (the CDC, the Board of Health, etc..) concentrate their efforts there. Inspections of the food and its handling start, and Doohan soon begins to suspect that this outbreak was deliberate. As he gets closer to the truth behind it, he finds more and more danger for himself.

The CDC also features in Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the CDC is sent to Los Angeles when several patients of the Richter Clinic die. The clinic’s owner, Dr. Rudolph Richter, also succumbs. Blumenthal and the team she works with manage to contain the outbreak, and it seems that the public health isn’t at risk. Then, there’s an outbreak in St. Louis. And another in Phoenix. It now seems clear to Blumenthal that this virus is being spread deliberately. But she doesn’t have much evidence to support herself. Still, she perseveres, and soon finds she’s up against some very dangerous and powerful people who are not afraid to kill.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman has to be concerned about her local Health Department’s expectations, because she owns a bakery. By and large, she doesn’t have a bad relationship with the inspection team, although they don’t see eye to eye on Chapman’s approach to vermin control. Along with her ‘house cat’ Horatio, Chapman is owned by Heckle and Jekyll, the feline Rodent Control Officers who roam the bakery at night, making sure that Chapman’s baking supplies are vermin-free. It isn’t exactly what the Health Department pamphlets advise, but it works well, and Chapman’s bakery is successful. Then, in Trick or Treat, there’s an ergot infestation at another, nearby, bakery. The Health Department has to close that bakery until the ergot is removed, and all the other local bakeries, including Chapman’s, also become suspect. It’s hard for Chapman not to be able to go about her baking business. But she understands why the bakery has to close temporarily, and she certainly doesn’t want anyone sickened on her account. It’s among other things an interesting look at how health inspectors work when something goes wrong in a restaurant or other food-selling establishment.

Sometimes, health, food, and other inspectors are fictional targets. For instance, in Donna Leon’s Beastly Things, the body of an unknown man is found in one of Venice’s canals. There’s no identification, and no truly distinctive marks on the body, so at first, it’s hard to determine who the victim was. But Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team eventually identify the man as Andrea Nava. He was a veterinarian who worked part-time at a local slaughterhouse. His job there was to inspect the animals brought in by local farmers, to verify the health of their animals. As Brunetti and his team look into the murder, readers learn about the way slaughterhouse inspections are supposed to work, and how they work in this case.

A few of Carl Hiaasen’s novels include characters who are health inspectors, or have related roles. One of them is Razor Girl, which features Andrew Yancey, whom fans will remember from Bad Monkey. In this novel, he’s no longer a police detective. He’s been demoted to Inspector for the Health Department. He gets involved in a complex (this is Hiaasen….) case when he discovers hair from a beard in the food at Clippy’s Restaurant. The hair turns out to belong to Buck Nance, a reality show star who presumably went into hiding after a disastrous live show. One of Yancey’s leads is con artist Merry Mansfield, who ended up trying to scam Lane Coolman, who was supposed to meet Nance in Key West (Florida). Coolman’s now worried about Nance’s whereabouts, and Yancey sees a way to get his badge back if he finds out the truth. He and Mansfield work together, but Yancey’s got to go up against serious odds, including a restaurant infestation of Gambian pouched rats (yes, those are real, and they can grow to be about .9 m (about 3 ft.) long).

Public health is a very real and important concern. So, it’s little wonder that health inspectors of different sorts can shut down restaurants and all sorts of other businesses. Their job might not always make them a lot of fans, but we do need them.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Three Penny Piece’s Saddam Henderson’s Old Time Country Kitchen.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Frank Robinson, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Robin Cook, Thomas N. Scortia