“Doing Harm” by Kelly Parsons will make you nervous all over again about going under the knife, but it turns out that in this case, that’s the least of your worries.
Parsons has done a fine job of creating a character caught up in his own success, too sure of his abilities, determined to a fault, ambitious and yet genuinely good at what he does. When disaster starts to rain down all around him, partly because of his smug over confidence, but equally because of circumstances beyond his control, he finds his life and the lives of his family targeted by a masterful Machiavelli.
Dr. Steve Mitchell is a star at the teaching hospital where he is a respected surgical resident. His prospects are better than good, they’re stellar, and then his life starts to fall apart. Overconfidence in the operating room causes him to make a life-altering choice for his patient, while another of his patients is declining and no one can figure out why. These two events run a parallel course as one disaster after another makes Mitchell begin to doubt the security of his future and his marriage.
Those who once regarded him as the golden boy will hardly speak to him. His wife becomes suspicious of changes in his behavior and his absences from home. He is banned from doing the work he loves, and he’s lost a bit of his swagger and a lot of his confidence. The fiercest blow comes from a betrayal that leads him to discover horrific facts about a colleague that leaves him dazed and helpless.
Mitchell’s downward spiral slows when he digs deep and finds the core strengths that made him want to be a surgeon in the first place. With his knowledge of computers and help from an unexpected source he begins to make his way back, but the way ahead is rocky because he is dealing with an adversary pathologically bent on ruining his life while trying to justify murderous acts.
Parsons writes vividly even when describing medical and technical details. You are in the action right along with Mitchell.
“Do Harm” isn’t for the faint of heart. The doc talk can be pretty grim, but the overall story is compelling, a complex tale of human frailty, unexpected compassion and professional duplicity. A great medical thriller from a talented writer. I recommend the book to anyone who likes a good story well told.
This is Parsons’ debut novel. His knowledge of hospital and operating procedure are obvious and based on his personal experience as a board-certified urologist with degrees from Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins. He is on the faculty at the University of California San Diego.