The triplet of unrelated incidents, which occur on June 12, 1991, bear little in common: A microbiologist adds a rare 1918 virus to his collection when he performs unauthorized archaeology at an abandoned igloo buried beneath a snowpack near Prudhoe Bay. Ophthalmologist John Stapleton loses his young family to an airplane crash. And mother-to-be Terese Hagen loses her unborn baby, her uterus, and her husband all on the same day. Five years later these events culminate in a crisis at Manhattan General, an AmeriCare hospital.
When Winter wanes into Spring 1996, three highly contagious diseases: black death, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, show up in as many days at Manhattan General. Were they not fictional, this trio of infectious narratives, from the first half of Contagion, would each befit its own chapter in The Medical Detectives (Roueché), an unofficial textbook for medical students. In fact, a few cases covered by The Medical Detectives can function as a practical primer for this story.
Lives hang in the balance as Medical Examiner Jack Stapleton races against time to track down the source of recent outbreaks of black death, tularemia, rickettsia, and finally flu, in New York City. In all cases, Manhattan General Hospital is indicated as the sole source of the diseases. At first, for reasons revealed later, Stapleton's schadenfreude surfaces over the outbreak at an AmeriCare facility. It also assists ad executive Terese Hagen, whose clientele includes an AmeriCare rival.
Title, teasers, cover, characters, & blurb
| “Who’d have ever thought the peaceful practice of medicine could be so exciting? It’s a good, fast read.”
—The Denver Post
| “The underlying theme—how easily could someone start an epidemic—is answered in a pretty chilling way.”
—The Birmingham News
From the undisputed master of the medical thriller comes the story of a deadly epidemic spread not merely by microbes but by sinister sabotage—a terrifying cautionary tale for the millennium as the health care giants collide…
After Dr John Stapleton loses both his young family and his ophthalmology practice, he develops a death wish, changes his name to Jack, and relocates to the Big Apple. He defies death daily, recklessly dashing through traffic on a bicycle to commute to work. As a newly minted Medical Examiner, he wallows with the dead. The pile of fresh, soon to be filled, pine coffins outside his office door, do double duty as a bicycle stand. He calls the sixth floor of a Harlem ghetto tenement home and is one of the few white guys grudgingly accepted on a nearby basketball-gangster court combo.
Meanwhile, Teresa Hagen, finds herself in the battle of her career, at a Madison Avenue advertising agency, whose President will soon retire. The top slot is in play, and Teresa's one of the two heirs apparent. Teresa's a shoo-in for the Presidency provided she retains the agency's most valued client, National Health, whose gone wobbly over Teresa's latest campaign.
On the first day of Spring, 1996, Stapleton diagnoses black death in a corpse, much to the chagrin of his immediate boss, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Washington. Although it seems simply too incredible, a lab soon confirms Stapleton's diagnosis. After a string of similar deaths from rare diseases, Stapleton soon suspects a Machiavellian pattern to events.
Cook's medical thrillers follow a formula. It's an expected, enjoyable requisite, demanded by me. Cook's formula's every bit as important to me as the Levinson and Link formula used to create top shelf Columbo scripts. Speaking of Columbo, Cook gives Detective Lieutenant Lou Soldano a rather rumpled appearance in this story.
Levinson and Link's inverted whodunit discloses the identity of their villain at the start of the story. Then their villain inevitably bonds with Detective Lieutenant Columbo in order to better lead the Lieutenant astray. Cook works it nearly the same way, only the villain's identity is more conventional and kept under wraps until the denouement. The villain tends to be a likable, charismatic person, who only wants to help the protagonist (not solve the case).
Another aspect of Cook's formula is a plethora characters. Contagion contains nearly one hundred characters. And Cook names nearly every character, even those mentioned only once in passing.
Cook's stories primarily provide me with escapist entertainment. Character development doesn't matter to me. Regardless, during the course of this story, Stapleton changes from a man with a death wish to a man with a future.
As is often the case with Cook, healthcare sacrificed on the alter of corporate profit is one of the themes present in this story. The Medical Detectives (Roueché) epidemiological angle also adds an extra dimension. All things considered, Contagion delivers a solid story, worthy my time.
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© 2020 Don Kuenz