4 stars out of 5
One thing's for sure: The title couldn't be any more perfect. And although I'm a bit less enthusiastic about the rest of the book, it's a solid launch for what I expect to be a series. I'm a huge fan of medically induced dramas (characters like Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, Tess Gerritsen's Maura Isles and yes, even James Patterson's Claire Washburn (she of the Women's Murder Club series) are among my favorites), and this one introduced me to a whole new profession: Death investigator. It is mostly for that reason - and the potential for an excellent series - that rounding up my actual 3.5-star rating to 4 was a no-brainer (half-stars aren't possible at most review websites).
Such is the job of lead character Angela Richman, who is felled by a series of six strokes and saved by the expertise of egomaniacal neurosurgeon Jeb Travis Tritt after being misdiagnosed by another full-of-himself doctor who practices at the same hospital. Interestingly, the author herself had a similar experience, much of which she no doubt used to shape this story.
But as Angela struggles to regain her investigative skills amid medical setbacks and hospital screw-ups, another drama emerges: Despite his obvious talent, no one at the hospital or in the community wants the neurosurgeon (who yes, was named after the country singer) around. He's not, you see, cut from the same cloth as the locals in the very close-knit community called the Forest. Not so for the doctor who misdiagnosed Angela in the first place; his smooth talking manner - and more to the point, his family's heritage and money - make him a local hero whose image is untarnishable.
That the two doctors share a bitter dislike of each other is pretty much a given; so when the popular doc gets bumped off, it's no surprise that the "outsider" becomes the prime suspect. Angela, though, has serious doubts about his guilt (despite his late-night rants in her hospital room about the other doctor's ineptitude), but her mind is so much in turmoil as she recovers from her own brain surgery that it's hard for her to discern what's real and what's not. She gets help from her friend Katie, a doctor/medical examiner who's overly fond not only of salty language but of reminding everyone that the people who land on her table can't talk, sing, swim (fill in the blank). Okay, my dear, we got it the first time - they're dead. Now give it a rest.
In the midst of all this, Katie is trying to round up loose ends on a case of her own; someone at the hospital, it seems, is a serial "Angel of Death," killing patients who otherwise should have survived (ah - could that be tied to the murder of Angela's neurosurgeon)? As Angela moves toward recovery of her former well-honed investigative skills, she unearths clues that lead to the answer of that question as well as the murderer's identity and illicit goings-on in the hospital.
The story doesn't end there, though; an epilogue describes how all the characters ended up after the major brouhaha has passed. That's a nice touch, actually, and I'm left with only one question: When Angela left the hospital, she was taking the blood-thinner Warfarin. But just a few days later, it's mentioned that she's on Coumadin (another brand-name blood thinner). Huh?
All in all, this is a great read-on-the-beach kind of book and I thank the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for a copy in exchange for an honest review. When the death investigator makes her next appearance, I hope I'll be on the list to read it as well.
Brain Storm by Elaine Viets (Thomas & Mercer, August 2016); 322 pp.