Sharon St. George is the author of the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series. Spine Damage, the fourth book in the series, was released May 15, 2017. The first two books in this series, Due for Discard, and Checked Out, will be reprinted as part of Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery series. A member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, Sharon also serves as program director for Writers Forum, a nonprofit serving writers in Far Northern California. Learn more about Sharon and her books at her website.
Why Hospital-based Mysteries? Why Not?
What's the first thought that comes to mind when we hear the word hospital? Sickness? Death? Fear? Or do our minds leap to the most recent hospital tragedy to hit the headlines? A stolen newborn, or a crazed shooter taking aim at hospital workers? Is it any wonder so many of us suffer from hospital phobia? Then we must ask why would an author choose to set a mystery series in a hospital?
The answer is Why not? Consider the number of medical dramas aired on television dating from 1951 to the present. A quick online search reveals the number is more than ninety, and most of them were set in hospitals.
Readers of a certain age might realize how long the daytime program General Hospital has been on the air. Its run began back in 1963, and continues to this day. It is listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running American soap opera in production and the third longest-running drama on television in American history.
What is it, then, that attracts mystery buffs to medical drama? Let's look at some similarities that might explain the fascination. What are the compelling ingredients in a mystery? First, something goes wrong. Upsets the status quo. But even worse, we don't know who, or what, caused that inciting incident.
The same elements that figure in a crime can be found in the onset of a medical problem. In either case, the investigation must begin. Answers must be found. In the same way that detectives sort through clues at a crime scene, doctors will sort through clues to that headache, but in their case, the patient's body is the crime scene.
Our detectives eventually set their sights on several possible murder suspects. The butler, the creepy nephew, the jilted lover, and so forth. Meanwhile, our doctors do the same. Their headache suspects are muscle tension, caffeine withdrawal, sinus infections, anxiety, and depression, among others.
The investigating continues, leads are followed, tests are done. While detectives utilize a crime lab, doctors rely on radiology and pathology labs. Results are considered, the number of possible culprits is narrowed, until, finally, the perpetrator is identified and arrested, either by the police, or by the appropriate course of medical treatment. Ultimately, the case is solved. Whew!
We can deduce with some confidence that readers and viewers who like answers, both criminal and medical, are the reason some of us write medical or hospital-based mysteries. We offer them a BOGO. By one, get one free. Solve a crime and solve a medical problem. Two for the price of one.
Do we know whether a steady dose of medical mysteries will cure hospital phobia? We'll have to ask General Hospital fans. Maybe someone has done a study.
Portuguese-speaking Paulo Ferrara is brought into the Intensive Care Unit of Timbergate Medical Center in Northern California with a gunshot wound to his spine. He struggles to explain his situation via a medical interpreter, who happens to be Aimee Machado's mother, visiting from the Portuguese Azores Islands. Paulo's teenage sister, Liliana, has gone missing, and he has set out to find her, but before he can explain why he was shot, he slips into a post-surgery coma. The only neurosurgeon who can help him is Dr. Godfrey Carver, who is on the brink of suspension for not completing his continuing education requirements. This puts him at odds with Aimee, the hospital's librarian and Continuing Education Coordinator. Already planning a trip to the Azores for vacation, Aimee and her pilot boyfriend, Nick Alexander, re-trace Paulo's steps to the Portuguese archipelago where they question Liliana's parents and learn that the girl vanished after attending a party on a mysterious super-yacht. One of the missing teen's friends alerts them to a possible connection to a shadowy online American boyfriend. Time is running out as Paulo's coma deepens, but there are two lives at stake and Aimee refuses to give up as she and Nick travel back to the States and to the San Francisco Bay Area, looking for clues and working in cooperation with their hometown police in search of the truth and the missing girl.