Guest Blogger: Elaine Hirsch: Five Great Medical Mystery Novels

19 Feb

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


2 responses to “Guest Blogger: Elaine Hirsch: Five Great Medical Mystery Novels

  1. Julie Lomoe

    February 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Excellent post, but I’d definitely add Michael Palmer to the list and delete one or both of Robin Cook’s books. Yes, he helped define the genre, but I can no longer read his books due to the horrendous writing!


  2. Beth Anne Algie

    February 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    When I saw the headline of this post, I thought of my own list. And I was shocked to see it was almost identical. I am so glad _The Eleventh Plague_ was included on the list. That was a fantastic and intellighent medical mystery.

    My only other inclusion would have been the most thought provoking, _The J Factor_.

    Thank you for this post!



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