Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: The Queen of Hearts

By Jami Deise

I’ve been a huge fan of medical TV shows since I first heard those whirring helicopter blades signifying a new episode of M*A*S*H. I gave up on General Hospital when it turned into a mob drama, but I still plan my Thursdays around a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy. As far as books go, though, I’d rather read medical non-fiction than fiction. The few times I’ve violated this rule, I’ve been unable to suspend my disbelief that a whiny, nervous, romance-obsessed protagonist could be a doctor. Organic chemistry tends to weed out the flighty ones.

Kimmery Martin’s debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, doesn’t suffer from this shortcoming. A doctor of emergency medicine, she’s able to communicate medical information as naturally and succinctly as she narrates action and creates character. In an early scene, her two protagonists, Emma and Zadie, are forced to perform an emergency tracheotomy poolside, and Martin forwards the drama while explaining the procedure in a clear, thorough manner. (She also makes it obvious that it’s much more complicated than Hawkeye Pierce led Father Mulcahey to believe.) This combination of medical detail and personal drama is a winner.

Structurally, the narrative alternates between Emma and Zadie’s first-person points-of-view from their past as medical students and best friends to their present as trauma surgeon and pediatric cardiologist, respectively. The novel begins humorously, as Zadie tries to balance the needs of her four children and banker husband with her career. The drama kicks off when Zadie’s ex-boyfriend Nick, who was her chief resident when she was a lowly third-year medical student, joins Emma’s surgical practice. As the tension builds in the past (Nick and Zadie’s relationship is supposed to be secret), in the present Emma fights to save the life of the child of rich friends of Zadie’s. Mistakes in both time lines converge.

In its best sections, Queen reminded me a lot of the best of Grey’s Anatomy. I always thought the relationship between Meredith and Christina was the show’s core, so reading about another friendship between female doctors was enjoyable. But the novel has some issues with tone, and by the end, I’m not sure Martin was completely in control of her narrative or her characters. The conclusion didn’t sit well with me; I felt Martin had created a psychopath and no one recognized it.

However, most of the book was an enjoyable blend of realistic medical situations and character drama. Zadie was especially likeable and believable. While I’d read any book that Martin writes after this, I’d encourage her to consider following up The Queen of Hearts with a psychological thriller.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

susieqlaw said...

I enjoyed this review.