Monthly Archives: February 2012

Guest Blogger: Kyle Mills: Life, Death, and Progeria

Don’t ever want to die?

Thinking about your mortality is like wrinkles and the propensity to start sentences with “these kids today”—just another unavoidable aspect of getting older.  But, in my case, it also led to interesting questions about the inevitability of aging.

With the incredible technological advances I’ve seen in my forty-five years, why do I have to suffer through it at all?  I mean, I don’t hack novels out on a manual typewriter like my predecessors. I no longer have to carefully apply tinfoil to my TV antenna in order to catch an episode of Kojak.  Yet I still have to listen to myself whine about my increasingly bad back—complaints that are often barely audible over the alarming crunching sound coming from elbows I trashed over twenty years of rock climbing.

And so when it came time to write my latest thriller, I found myself returning to this subject.
Aging isn’t as inevitable as many people think.  Lobsters, for instance, just keep going until they get sick, injured, or dipped in butter. With old age being the number one killer of people worldwide, why couldn’t we borrow a few crustacean genes and spare ourselves?

It turns out that the science of aging is progressing at an ever-accelerating rate.  We’ve discovered that calorie restriction can slow the process and that removing dying cells can prevent mice from developing cataracts, wrinkles, and muscle wasting.  Or maybe it would be easier to just build replacement parts from our own cells and keep swapping them out?

There are stranger solutions, too.  If the human brain is nothing more than a computer made of meat, why not just download our minds into a simulation?  We’d be young and beautiful forever, living in a world of unlimited resources and infinite possibilities.  Want to own a mansion, climb Mt. Everest, and eat ten gallons of ice cream in a single sitting?  Go ahead.  Angry with your husband for denting your virtual Ferrari?  Kill him with a chainsaw.  He’ll just pop back into existence a few seconds later no worse for the wear.

More interesting than the science, though, are the social ramifications.  What about overpopulation?  Would we still need God? What if immortality was too expensive for all but the wealthiest people? Would our existence become less life and more a tedious, endless avoidance of death?  Do we need an expiration date to motivate us to get up in the morning?

The wonderful thing about change on this scale is that it can very easily turn into chaos.  And chaos makes for great stories.






Richard and Carly Draman’s daughter Susie has only a few years left to live. Afflicted with progeria, a rare disease that causes premature aging, Susie is expected to die before her thirteenth birthday. Microbiologist Richard has devoted himself to raising money to fund research into a cure, but by the time Susie is eight years old, he must face the fact that the money—and her time—are quickly running out. Richard unexpectedly receives a visit from the widower of a recently deceased fellow researcher whose radical work unraveling the fundamental secrets of life just may hold the key to a cure for Susie. Soon after, Richard is charged with industrial espionage by the pharmaceutical company that funded the research. Knowing he has stumbled onto something big, he turns for help to old friend Burt Seeger, a retired special-forces operative. Together, Seeger and the Dramans set out to track down the shadowy forces trying to silence them.. But their quest is rife with danger and betrayal, as they enter a battle between two powerful factions vying for control of a discovery that could change the face of humanity—and save one little girl’s life.





Kyle Mills is the author of eleven political crime thrillers.  His provocative novels have earned international acclaim as well as the praise of Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, David Morrell, and Lee Child.  Mills’ initial inspiration for his novels  was his father’s career as a former FBI agent and director of Interpol, and it is those familial connections with international law enforcement that lend striking realism to his work.


Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Medical Issues, Writing


Q and A: Will Antibody Profiling Help My Investigator Distinguish Between Two Suspects?

Q: My suspect had a bone marrow transplant a few years ago. DNA from blood at several crime scenes shows a mixture that is eventually resolved, with both the bone marrow donor and recipient being represented. The CSI investigating the case wishes to use the new antibody profiling assay on the samples in order to distinguish this suspect from the original bone marrow donor (who is also a suspect). Would the antibodies that are tested for in this assay differ between two people who share the same bone marrow and thus the same DNA?

AC, Knoxville, TN

A: Antibody profiling is new, unproven, and has never been used in a court case. So it is as yet not an admissible piece of evidence but that will probably happen before too long if it indeed pans out to be as good as it appears. The science behind it is that when any foreign material enters the body–things such as bacteria and viruses–the body immediately constructs antibodies against this foreign intruder. Remnants of these antibodies remain in the blood system forever. It is these types of antibodies that give us immunity to measles and other infectious diseases once we’ve had them. It is these types antibodies that also make us immune to many of these diseases after a vaccination. Since each of us throughout our lives contact different bacteria and viruses and other foreign materials, we each have an individual pattern of antibodies in our system. No two people have exactly the same antibody profile–or so it seems—and this is the basis for using this profile to identify an individual. If this turns out to be as good as promised it could be as good as DNA and fingerprints.

So an antibody profile could be created from the blood left at the crime scene as well as the two suspects and one would be exonerated while the other would be implicated. The DNA profile and the fact that one of the people had a bone marrow transplant would have nothing to do with this. Antibodies are not part of the DNA profile and they are not created by the blood but rather by immune cells throughout the body.

The bottom line is that even though your two suspects would have the same DNA profile in their blood–but different in every other tissue–they would each have their own individual antibody profile. And even if it has never been used it court, it could easily cause your detectives to focus their attention on one suspect and exclude the other.


Posted by on February 22, 2012 in DNA, High Tech Forensics, Medical Issues, Q&A


Guest Blogger: Elaine Hirsch: Five Great Medical Mystery Novels

Five Great Medical Mystery Novels
Genre-specific writing, such as with medical mysteries, requires an author who can deliver enough excitement and yet provide relevant information to hook an audience who will faithfully remain followers for several additional novels. Successful entertainers have always lived by the adage to leave the audience wanting more. Writers need to apply the same principle in their writing style and employ fully-developed characters who readers want to meet again and again in new situations while retaining believability and intrigue. That is a tall order, but  successful authors have done just that within the medical mystery genre. Combining aspects of criminology and medical forensics, these books provide stories that are gripping yet believable. Their believability factor lies in the fact that they are medical doctors. Dr. Robin Cook and Dr. Tess Gerritsen have written two of the top five books in the medical mystery genre. Both have authored several additional best sellers in the same genre that have been made into movie or television programs.

Coma is Robin Cooks’ first novel published in 1977. It became an immediate best seller and was made into a very successful movie the next year. The story centers around a young, female med student named Susan who discovers recent comatose patients have been targeted for underground organ harvesting rather than just being random accidents during surgeries. Susan’s relentless investigation results in her being drugged and targeted for her organs.

Harvest is another organ-harvesting novel, the first for Tess Gerritsen on the New York Times best seller listing, 1996, that set the stage for three more best selling medical murder mysteries that immediately followed. Gerritsen borrowed a real life story from Russia and added her own elements of fiction. Orphans were disappearing from the streets of Russia and shipped abroad for organ harvesting.

The third book is also authored by a physician, Dr. John S. Marr. Marr wrote The Eleventh Plague. This book instantly captures your attention because it deals with a subject that people have feared since the beginning of time. Plagues can and do happen and in times of terrorism it is all too plausible. In this tightly wound novel a long time grudge between a forensic toxicologist and an infectious disease specialist erupts into medical chaos.

No medical mystery genre top five list would be complete without a book, or books, by Patricia Cornwell. Unnatural Exposure, written in 1997, one of many the prolific author has turned into best sellers. Her fast-paced writing style captures the reading audience and mesmerizes them with her knowledge and believability while capitalizing on the readers fear that this could actually happen. This book is part of the Dr. Kay Scarpetta, medical forensics/coroner series. Diehard Cornwell fans sit in wait for her next novel featuring Dr. Scarpetta. In this novel, Scarpetta gets involved in a case where torsos are appearing in random landfills. Eventually the body parts appear with small markings resembling small pox and the race to find the killer is on. This book has been listed on an approved high school reading list for students in North Carolina.

While many other authors in this genre exist, the fifth position once again goes to Robin Cook for his novel Toxin, 1998. This book has had hundreds and hundreds of reviews by readers and the fear factor regarding the believability is extremely high. Everyone fears tainted water or tainted foods. In the story, a teen almost dies from ingesting a tainted hamburger. It may appear dated with a date of 1998 but with all the recent meat recalls and vegetable recalls it is just as fresh now as it was when it was published.

Intrigue and fascination with what could happen in any of the reader’s lives has made these novels successful. Believable characters and situations retain the attention span of the reader. Good, solid information and research do not leave the reader saying “That would never happen,” and that is why these books are five of the great medical mystery novels.


Posted by on February 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


Q and A: What Poison Could Be Placed on an Envelope and Cause a Quick Death?

Q: I have a character who needs to die after licking an envelope. I would prefer a fairly quick demise. What sort of poison could the murderer use? It would need to be something that doesn’t taste too awful or she’ll stop licking it!

A: There are very few poisons that work instantly in small doses, but cyanide would fit your needs and can be acquired fairly easily.

Cyanide is quick and even if someone attempted to save the victim, it is next to impossible because treatment with a Cyanide Antidote Kit or a Cyanokit must begin immediately if any chance of survival is to be realized and people don’t usually carry these kits around. Simple CPR won’t do it. This is because cyanide is a “metabolic poison.” It basically shuts down the ability of cells to use oxygen. The red blood cells cannot carry oxygen to the tissues and the tissue cells of the body can’t use the oxygen anyway. It is as if all the oxygen were removed from the body instantly. This process is immediate and profound and leads to death in 1 to 20 minutes, depending on the dosage and a few other things. Even of CPR were begun immediately, it would be ineffective since the cells couldn’t use the oxygen supplied by this process.

Symptoms would begin very quickly in the delivery method you have chosen since the cyanide would absorb rapidly through the membranes of the mouth. The symptoms are rapid breathing, shortness of breath, dizziness, flushing, nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Maybe seizure activity. Then death. This could happen in a matter of minutes. Your victim might develop sudden, severe shortness of breath, a flushed face, perhaps clutch at his chest, collapse to the floor, and die, with or without having a seizure in the process. This would look very much like a heart attack. His skin might appear pinkish and if he hit his head or scraped an elbow in his fall and bled, the blood is a noticeably bright cherry red due to a chemical reaction between the cyanide and the hemoglobin molecules in the red blood cells.

Potassium Cyanide (KCN) and Sodium Cyanide (NaCN) are your best bets. They are white powders with a faint bitter almond smell, which most people do not notice. Both dissolve readily in water and saline. One caveat. Your killer must be careful in handling the KCN or NaCN as both readily absorb through the skin and could do in your killer. Rubber gloves or a complete avoidance of direct contact with the powder would be wise.

KCN and NaCN are used commercially in metal recovery such as extracting gold or silver from their ores and in electroplating such metals as gold, silver, copper, and platinum. They could be pilfered from a jewelry or metal plating company or could be purchased from a chemical supply firm.

In your story, the powder could be dissolved in water, applied to the envelope glue, and allowed to dry. When your victim licked the glue, he would develop the above symptoms within a very few minutes and would then collapse and die. This could take as little as two or three minutes.


Just Got the Cover for LOVE IS MURDER

Here is the cover for the next short story anthology from ITW and MIRA. The collection is titled LOVE IS MURDER and is edited by the wonderful Sandra Brown. I am honored that my story “Even Steven” is included. Release is scheduled for May 29th with a mass signing across the US planned for that day. More on that later.

What other authors say about this collection:

LISA GARDNER: “An absolute must buy for thriller readers everywhere.” The finest authors contributing their finest romantic suspense stories, from the shocking to the spooky to the heart-pounding. This book has it all.”

JOSEPH FINDER: “LOVE  IS MURDER is a collection of romantic suspense stories by some of the best thriller writers around.  It’s like a box of the finest chocolates — each one is different, but they’re all great.”
STEVE BERRY: “A slam-dunk collection of the best in the business. This is the third collection of thriller stories from the International Thriller Writers— this one proving, without any doubt, that ITW knows what it’s doing. There’s action, adventure, theme, and heart — a thrilling quest through the world of romantic suspense — one every reader in that genre will savor. And with Sandra Brown overseeing it all as editor?  It’s guaranteed to delight.”

TESS GERRITSEN: “A total feast for any and all lovers of romantic suspense.  A host of engaging storytellers deliver page after page of perfection and joy.  Poignant in places, engaging in others, but always entertaining —- I loved this book and you will too.”

KARIN SLAUGHTER: “Gripping, exciting, engaging — every story will leave you breathless.  One of the best collections of the year.”

DOUGLAS PRESTON: “I devoured Love Is Murder. Virtually every story is an exquisitely crafted gem that will shock, fascinate, enthrall, or move you.  I do not exaggerate when I say this is the finest collection of romantic suspense ever published. Absolutely superb.”

JEFFERY DEAVER: “Atmospheric and tense, each of the stories is a quick, sharp tale.  Brilliant and exceptional writing by some of the biggest names in the business.  For romantic suspense lovers, this is magical mayhem loaded with bark and bite.  Downright beguiling.”

SHARON SALA: “LOVE IS MURDER is a fabulous smorgasbord of murder, mystery, and mayhem–a dream of a read for lovers of mystery or romance.”

ERICA SPINDLER: “LOVE IS MURDER is thrilling collection, with something for everyone and every mood. I found myself eager to get back to it and wondering what new little jewel I’d discover. I hadn’t read short stories in years and LOVE IS MURDER made me realize what I’ve been missing”.





Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Writing


Black Death Bug Identified–Again

Ring around the rosies,
A pocket full of posies,
Achoo! Achoo!
We all fall down.

This innocent sounding nursery rhyme dates to the Black Death and underscores the effects and forms of this disease. Bubonic Plague caused swollen and necrotic lymph nodes, called buboes, and a circular pinkish rash (the ring of the rosies). Placing flowers  (posies) in your pocket was supposed to ward off the bad air, or evil spirits, or whatever your belief of choice for the cause of the disease. Of course, this didn’t work. When it progressed to Pneumonic Plague, where the victim coughed, sneezed, became short of breath, and coughed up blood, death followed very quickly (all fall down).

The Black Death was a human disaster of catastrophic proportions. Though estimates vary, when it struck Europe between 1348 and 1350, it killed 30-60% of the population and probably reduced the world population from approximately 450 million to 350 million. It disrupted travel and trade, set one village against another, and shook the foundations of medicine and religion. No one knew what caused it and prevention and treatment were mysteries. Nothing worked. No medicine or prayer or ceremony slowed its march or relieved those afflicted. If neither the medical practitioners nor the clergy of the day could help, then of what use were they?

All the populace could do was to burn or bury the dead, often in mass graves. Mourning, prayer, and fear then followed.


The cause of The Plague is the tiny bacterium we call Yersinia Pestis. That was the long held dogma anyway. More recently some have questioned this and have proposed other causes such as the Ebola virus, small pox, typhus, and several other organisms.

But recent studies seem to support dogma. Hendrik Poinar and colleagues at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, recently found a very interesting way to exam the DNA from bones and teeth removed from a plague mass burial pit near London. Their “molecular probe” revealed that the causative agent was our old friend Yersinia Pestis after all.


Q and A: If a Corpse Has Undergone Adipocere Formation, Can My ME Accurately Determine the Time of Death?

Q: In your blog you have talked about the formation of adipocere and explained the process. But what about how to estimate the time of death after a corpse has gone through the process of saponification? In my current project I have a body covered in adipocere. The victim is found 15 years after she was killed. Will it be possible for the detectives to determine exactly when she had been killed?

EE Giorgi, Los Alamos, NM

A: The short answer is no they would not be able to. At least not from the adipocere alone.

Adipocere formation is not common but it does indeed occur. This process is not one where the body is covered with adipocere but rather the body turns into this soap-like material. This can happen in a few weeks under the proper circumstances, which is usually a body buried in very acidic or alkaline environments. But it can happen under many circumstances.


Once it is formed the body remains fairly stable and can easily remain intact for 15 years or longer. But there is nothing about the adipocere itself that would give a timeline for when death occurred. Based only on that it could’ve been a few months ago or a few decades ago and the medical examiner has no tools for really distinguishing one from the other.

He would instead rely on other information such as when the person went missing. Let’s say the victim was 20 years old at the time of death. That would mean she would be 35 at the time the body was found. When the medical examiner, and perhaps a forensic anthropologist, examined the body they would know that the corpse was more consistent with someone in the 15 to 20 year old range than someone in the 35 to 40 year range and therefore could say that she had been dead for 15 years or so.

There might also be scene markers such as the clothing she was wearing or items found in her pockets, purse, or anything else found at the burial site. Some of these might suggest that she died shortly after she disappeared. Maybe a friend had just given her a check or a letter to mail and it had somehow survived in her purse. Most people deposit checks and post letters fairly soon rather than keeping them in their possession for weeks or months. So if these were found it would suggest she had died fairly soon after receiving them.

Maybe she was known to be wearing a certain shirt or jacket or other item of clothing at the time she disappeared and the same clothing was found on or around the corpse. This would be strong evidence that she died around the time she had disappeared simply because had she lived for a period of time after disappearance she would likely have changed clothes.

The ME could see all of this and make his best estimate that she probably died around the time she disappeared.

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