Reviewed by Jim Napier
Derringer Award finalist Melissa Yi is back with yet another thriller in her engaging Dr. Hope Sze series. In this latest saga about the frenetic world of emergency medicine, Hope finds herself at Montreal’s University College Hospital, assigned to Operating Room 3 – known as the death OR. There she assists a surgical team headed by an imperious surgeon known as Doctor Vrac.
Vrac is egocentric, vain, impatient, autocratic, insulting, and – most importantly – proves all too often to be professionally incompetent as well. His conduct in the operating room jeopardizes his patients’ lives, and it seems the hospital authorities only keep him on because he regularly donates large chunks of his own income to the hospital, enabling them to look the other way. But that indifference, fuelled by Vrac’s surgical staff fear of harming their own medical careers if they complain, spirals out of control as Vrac moves from incompetence to actual planned malevolence, and more than one death is the result.
Hope Sze finds herself caught up in this maelstrom. As a first-year resident, she is putting in her time (and hopefully gaining experience) in general surgery. While she is scrubbing up, Vrac appears, and tells Hope not to hurry: he’s finished closing the patient. He uses the moment to grope her, and before she can react, leaves the room.
While she is processing this assault, the junior surgical resident dismisses the assault, saying that it’s par for the course with Vrac to “haze” the newbies.
But as unpleasant as it is, this incident proves to be only the beginning of a bizarre day. When Dr. Burns, the anesthesiologist, fails to appear, Hope goes in search of him. She finds him in the store room, on the floor, unconscious. Attempts to revive him prove futile; the hospital has claimed its first victim of the day.
As she fends off the attention of the egomaniacal Dr Vrac, Hope struggles to discover the connection – if there is one – between an ongoing series of deaths and a sadistic surgeon determined to literally carve his own world.
If you are even remotely contemplating the possibility of being hospitalized anytime in the near future, The Shapes of Wrath is perhaps best avoided at the moment! Not since the playwright Paddy Chayefsky penned The Hospital over a half-century ago has there been such a searing indictment of the medical world. That book won the playwright an Academy Award, and The Shapes of Wrath is no less sparing of the profession.
That said, The Shapes of Wrath is a well-structured, fast-paced work, with characters that will remain in the memory, in a setting that readers will recognize as all too real, from the reptilian chief surgeon to his long-suffering residents, and on to night-shift security guards apparently unable to master the intricacies of telephone paging systems, The Shapes of Wrath is a compelling read, totally fresh, and I recommend highly.
The Shapes of Wrath is published by Windtree Press.
In addition to being a reviewer with over six hundred reviews to his credit, Jim Napier is the acclaimed author of Legacy and Ridley’s War, in the British-based Colin McDermott mystery series. The third novel in the series, Family Matters, is expected out in 2023.