Book Review: Final Mercy

[amazon_image id=”B00B9PJT20″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Final Mercy[/amazon_image]


Final Mercy by Frank J Edwards


There’s something appealing about the idea of a madman being charge of a hospital and nobody realising it. That’s the premise of Frank J Edwards’ Final Mercy: everyone thinks Bryson Witner, the new dean of a once prestigious teaching hospital in rural New York that has fallen on hard times, is a breath of fresh air. But Dr Witner is seriously unhinged: he’s killed his way to the top job and he’s intent on killing anyone who threatens his grip on it.

The antidote is Dr Jack Forester, the likeable head of the Emergency Department, who finds himself confronted with the unenviable task of unravelling what’s really going on at the hospital.

Anyone who’s ever worked for a boss with narcissistic tendencies will find the early chapters all too familiar, as Dr Forester’s life is made miserable by Dr Witner’s demands. What sets Final Mercy apart is the glee with which Edwards sets about deliberately blowing office politics out of all proportion, and asking: what if the boss really is a sociopath?

At first Dr Forester just faces his pet project being shelved. But when his mentor returns to town saying he’s heard something seriously disturbing about the new dean, only to fall mysteriously from a bridge hours later, Dr Forester starts to uncover the truth about Dr Witner. He’s aided in this by Zellie Anderson, a reporter who’s in town to interview the new dean.

Edwards uses his own background in emergency medicine to great effect, and it’s no surprise that some of the novel’s best scenes play out in the Emergency Department, where he conveys the real drama of patients being brought in hovering between life and death, and doctors having to make near instant decisions.

One scene, where the experienced doctor on duty can’t be found, and a student is faced with diagnosing a patient who is dying before his eyes, and can’t work it out, is particularly compelling.

But Edwards brings across also the routine frustrations behind the drama too: the office politics and petty bickering, especially in a committee meeting where rival department heads combine to block a much-needed overhaul of the Emergency Department for no better reason that their own egos and ambition.

The more conventional thriller plot which takes over toward the end is perhaps not as enticing or different as the hospital drama, but it holds up well enough.

The romantic subplot between Jack and Zellie is not quite so convincing. It’s not that they fall for each other too fast — who ever loved that loved not at first sight? — but more that they seem to take their powerful attraction for each other a little too much in their stride. That said, they’re an engaging pair.

It’s Dr Witner, though, who steals the show: a well crafted portrayal of a dangerously unhinged personality, full of telling little details.

A classy thriller that revels in its setting, and offers a more convincing view of hospital life than House or ER.

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