Manner of Death

Image of Manner of Death (A Jack Stapleton & Laurie Montgomery Novel)
Release Date: 
December 5, 2023
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Reviewed by: 

Forty-six years ago, Robin Cook dazzled readers with his first successful book, Coma, which reignited the medical-thriller genre set afire by Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. Cook has published 40 books in the interim.

Cook’s newest endeavor, Manner of Death, follows his winning formulation, this time concentrating on the dangerous conjunction of medicine and capitalism. In this outing, the issue is an unscrupulous company, Oncology Diagnostics, which is manufacturing false positive results for patients undergoing cancer screening. The patients, in turn, are recommended to have more detailed tests at Full Body Scan, a secret subsidiary of Oncology Diagnostics, in order to have the location and type of cancer identified. This second company has been created because the host firm is in severe financial straits and the scans are lucrative, though, in almost all cases, unnecessary. If this fraud is discovered, the owners face dire criminal consequences.

Dr. Laurie Montgomery is the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York and, with her husband Jack (also a medical examiner) in a secondary role, they encounter a pathology resident, Dr. Ryan Sullivan, who has been assigned to a month’s rotation doing autopsies. Ryan is greatly upset about doing these, especially the bodies labeled suicides because he once made an attempt on his own life, and his family is rife with deaths from suicide. After Ryan shares an autopsy with Dr. Montgomery, he offers to investigate other recent suicides as a way to avoid doing autopsies. As it turns out, some of the suicides might actually be staged homicides, and red flags about the cause of death were ignored.

Readers are in competent hands regarding the medical information provided—the author is a retired ophthalmologic surgeon who ably showcases his knowledge about the workings of the medical examiner’s office, even providing detailed descriptions of the buildings. However, when Cook strays into fiction, he tips the plot early and fails to amp up a feeling of impending peril because we can easily guess what will happen. The only time Ryan and Laurie are in danger, the outcomes are predictable. As a result, this “thriller” lacks the twists and turns we’re accustomed to encountering in the genre.

Perhaps Robin Cook has trod this ground too many times or perhaps the plots of contemporary suspense novels have grown more complex, with constant switchbacks and less linear plotting. Although it’s admirable to feature a female protagonist like Dr. Laurie Montgomery (she and her husband Jack have appeared in previous books), the reader may sense some faint chauvinism underlying the plot because the guy saves the gal rather than let the heroine save herself, even though she is the more prominent character.

The writing is solid, not sparkling, with some quirks such as point-of-view changes from paragraph to paragraph; repetitive guilt trips that feel emotionally flat; and a host of unmemorable names, as if the author cobbled together common first and surnames: Hank Roberts, Ryan Sullivan, Chuck Barton, Bart Arnold, etc. There are also a few modifier issues, such as this amusing phrase: “a tall, tan man dressed in a suit with flowing white hair . . .”

Robin Cook has a long and distinguished career as a physician and bestselling novelist. This book will appeal to those curious about the intricate relationships between medical examiners and legal investigators, and to readers interested in corrupt actors within the profession, especially those who take advantage of their patients by playing on fears of having cancer. As he has done in all of his novels, Cook once again rings a warning bell to raise awareness for a new area at risk for potential abuse.