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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 21, 2024


Do No Harm
Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
William Morrow, 388 pp $24.95

May 4, 2002 – Famous writers have already used just about every superlative to describe "Do No Harm," physician and bestselling author Gregg Andrew Hurwitz's macabre thriller: Kellerman — "terrifying." Grafton — "compelling." Connelly –"gripping." This novel is all of those and heart-breaking, too.
A Los Angeles County hospital emergency room is traumatized. A young nurse approaching the ER has had acid thrown in her face by an unknown assailant. It proves to be a blue Drano-like gel, designed for use by commercial cleaners, and it clings to the flesh it is eating away.
Everyone involved is livid at the bestiality of the crime. This atmosphere is not conducive to a climate of reason or understanding when the alleged perpetrator is captured, injured by his presumed choice of weapon, severely burned by acid. Dr. David Spier, chief of the ER, quickly senses two currents charging the air: First, the captured man has extensive, life-threatening burns on his chest and needs medical attention at once.Second, a number of detectives and hospital attendants — one of them the injured nurse's brother — are so angry that the culprit's life is in danger.
Spier is as shocked and horrified by the brutal attack as everyone else but he also deeply feels it is his responsibility to treat his patient before judging him or allowing others to do so. Hearing the muttering among the policemen, he doubts if the prisoner will reach the jailhouse alive. We are reminded that the Los Angeles Police Department has not been a bed of roses of late.
"Do no harm" is a phrase from the Hippocratic Oath which doctors swear to uphold, and it figures largely in Spier's quandary. The stand he resolves to take — to protect this acid-thrower (a consequence of which is that he escapes to throw again) — is a most unpopular one, as it is ever when one turns to principle as others are being torn emotionally. All of the action happens in and around the emergency room and other areas of the hospital, and we're not barred from any of it. In fact, we are told and shown every bit, and it is fascinating, as Hurwitz takes us inside the medical theater.
Many skeins make up the fabric of the narrative. Spier is just one of many characters, but he leaps from the page in all his humanity, wondering if he is right but acting with daring and fearlessness in his mission as he sees it. As the story plays out, he discovers disturbing facts about his famous parents, both noted doctors, and finds new stirrings in his own personal life.
It is compelling reading, although not for the queasy or faint of heart. If blood and blisters (and cadavers hung from hooks turning silently in the morgue's chill) set you to shuddering, you may want to pass. But if you do, you'll miss a volcano of a book.
"Do No Harm" is available at Dockside Bookshop in Havensight Mall. To check out other Dockside favorites, click here.

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