Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Mini Review of “Seizure” by Robin Cook

There must be something in the air in Boston and Cambridge that prompts doctors who train and practice in our storied medical schools and world-class hospitals to go beyond scribbling prescriptions to penning readable novels, screen plays and TV series. Michael Crichton comes immediately to mind. A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, this Renaissance Man taught anthropology at Cambridge University in England before pursuing his medical degree at Harvard Medical School. He financed his medical studies by writing thrillers under several pseudonyms. His best known works include Andromeda Strain, Rising Sun and Jurassic Park. He is the creator of the long-running TV series, ER.

Following in the tradition of medically-trained men of letters, Robin Cook is credited with: “introducing the word ‘medical’ to the thriller genre, and twenty years after the publication of his breakthrough novel, Coma, he continues to dominate the category he created.” (Quotation from Penguin Books bio page for Robin Cook).

Although he received his M.D. from Columbia University Medical School, the Boston influence is still there. He did post-doc work at Harvard and is currently on leave from his role as an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Eye and Ear Infirmary.

I have long enjoyed reading Dr. Cook’s writings. Were I to have an opportunity to meet Dr. Cook, I would - in my best Rene Zelweiger voice - proclaim: "You had me at 'Coma'!" As I read Coma, I loved his ability to tell a compelling story that used insider knowledge of medical procedures and “bleeding edge” research as a backdrop for creating fictional scenarios that address social, clinical, and bio-ethical issues.

His recent book, Seizure, is the latest in a steady stream of novels that flow from that stream. He has managed to created a body of work that uses the same mix of ingredients without becoming formulaic. In much the same way that Coma addressed issues presented by the growing availability of organ transplantation, Seizure tells a story that highlights the ethical Gordian Knot created by rapid advances in therapeutic cloning. A U.S. Senator from the Deep South – a Faulknerian cartoon of a Falstaff in white linen suit – grandstands for his constituency his opposition to therapeutic cloning. While he publicly opposes the new treatment in the political realm, behind the scenes the Senator is seeking to avail himself of this experimental treatment to cure the incipient Parkinson’s Disease that threatens to ruin his chances for a run at the White House. Throw in cloning blood cells form the Shroud of Turin, and you have a prescriptionfor an entrertaining summer read. The action occurs in milieus as disparate as the marshes of Revere Beach, the hallways of the U.S. Capitol, the cloisters of Turin and the splendors of the Atlantis Resort in Nassau.

I was just finishing the last few pages of this book on Monday evening as I sat in Section 20 at Fenway Park awaiting the first pitch of the game against Tampa Bay (My 1st Place Red Sox won 10-6!). Another citizen of Red Sox Nation stopped on the way to her seat in Row 1 – a seat she has occupied as a Season Ticket Holder since 1967! She remarked: “Can I borrow that book when you are finished? I love Robin Cook’s writing!”

That about says it all and is quintessential Boston – combining passion for the Red Sox, reading, writing, and medicine with our unique sense of community, order and tradition.



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