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Do No Harm


Do No Harm

You gotta watch it when you pick up a medical thriller. It's okay
if you read while riding the bus, or watching television, or
listening to music, or sitting in a meeting, but if you're in the
habit of reading while you eat (or, like a lot of us, eating while
you read), a medical novel might not be your book of choice. The
reason is that authors who write medical suspense novels are
usually acquainted with medical procedures. There is no doubt that
some obscure corollary to Murphy's Law dictates that you'll be
noshing on some dark meat turkey and washing it down with tomato
juice about the time that you hit the description of an emergency
tracheotomy being performed, with a graphic description of blood
hitting a nurse's spectacles. No, med thrillers are not for the
faint of heart, or stomach.

For the rest of us, however, (and yeah, that was me you heard
howling with laughter in the theater during parts of Seven)
a well done med thriller is just the berries. As one of the
characters in Gregg Andrew Hurwitz's DO NO HARM so succinctly
points out, a hospital may have the mission of preserving life (at
least in most cases) but it is full of instruments of death, and
they come at you from all sides. Scalpels, needles, scopes, and the
always dreaded catheter ("Uh, do you have that in a
'short'?")...the list is endless. And if you want to be on the edge
of your seat from beginning to end, DO NO HARM will get the job

Hurwitz revs his considerable literary engines from the opening
gun, beginning DO NO HARM with an account of the immediate
aftermath of a deliberate chemical burn attack. If Hurwitz's aim
was to scare the bejesus out of his readers, he succeeded in doing
so to at least one. The only time I put down DO NO HARM during the
entire time I was reading it was about five pages into it, when I
got up, dragged a chair over to the cupboard and dragged the drain
cleaner, bleach, ammonia, and anything else that looked even
remotely toxic off of the top shelf (one of the drawbacks to
marrying someone taller than you) to the local toxic waste dump.
Hurwitz manages, horribly but brilliantly, to later present a
shower scene that makes anything in Psycho look like a scene
from ROLIE POLIE OLIE. The principal behind this mayhem is
gradually revealed in bits and pieces, as are the perpetrator's
motives. Hurwitz's ultimate focus, however, isn't the who, what,
and where. It's more complicated. It's about how hard it is to do
good --- and whether doing the good thing is the right thing --- in
a bad world.

Hurwitz's maligned subject is David Spier, MD, chief emergency room
physician at a hospital where he is a legacy, thanks to his
physician parents. Spier is on hand to treat the first two victims,
both hospital colleagues, after they are assaulted by a
lye-throwing madman whom we come to know as "Clyde" and who seems
to appear and vanish at will. When Clyde is caught, and injured in
the process, it is Dr. Spier who must treat him, and treat him as
he would any other patient, notwithstanding Spier's distaste and
anger as well as the adverse reaction of his hospital colleagues.
Clyde escapes during the course of Spier's care; Spier is blamed
for the escape as well as the resultant mayhem that follows and
strikes closer and closer to home. Hurwitz, without sacrificing the
sustained suspense of DO NO HARM, deftly explores the ethical
dilemma that Spier faces as a physician: whether to give the best
possible care to an individual who wishes to, and is capable of,
inflicting severe physical damage upon the physician and his loved
ones. The textbook, theoretical answer, is that the physician must
treat such an individual as he would any other patient. The real
world application, however, is not always so clear cut. Hurwitz
provides Clyde with a sympathetic background, but as one of the
police officers succinctly points out, Clyde knows he's doing
wrong. Otherwise, why would he hide?

Hurwitz has written a topnotch thriller here, with some gruesome
images that will stay with you for longer than you may like. What
will resonate even longer, however, is the ethical dilemma, which
Hurwitz neatly presents, and which, by the conclusion of DO NO
HARM, is not entirely answered.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Do No Harm
by Gregg Hurwitz

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0060008873
  • ISBN-13: 9780060008871