Lethal Remedy, by Richard L. Mabry

I am not a fan of horror stories. The first horror film I saw was Rosemary's Baby and it scared the pants off me. I tried to watch Aliens because I was fascinated by Sigourney Weaver's tough Ellen Ripley, but ended up climbing over the back of my chair and cowering behind it, even with Ripley doing battle for me. Not sure why I'm such a wimp about horror; maybe because I jump into stories with both feet. Given half a chance I'll immerse myself in their world and not surface until I'm forcibly dragged back up.

So I thought I knew what to avoid. But this book caught me off guard and scared me more than any horror story. Lethal Remedy is part of Mabry's Prescription for Trouble Series, which he's labeled “Medical Suspense with Heart”. We follow a handful of doctors who are involved in a study of a new antibiotic that is supposedly 100% effective against Staph luciferus, a particularly virulent form of staph infection that is resistant to existing antibiotics.

Dr. Sara Miles works on the front line, seeing patients, making the hard decisions about appropriate care. Some of her patients have been enrolled in the study which is run by her arrogant former husband, Dr. Jack Ingersoll, who discovered the drug. Sara's former medical classmate, Rip Pearson, is Jack's assistant and dogsbody, doing the on-the-ground work while Jack is flown off to conferences courtesy of Jandra Pharmaceuticals, the drug company subsidizing the trial.

Sara and Rip become concerned when one of Sara's patients, a teenager named Chelsea, seems to show dangerous side-effects from the drug. They are joined by Sara's close friend and colleague, Lillian Gordon, and by Dr. John Ramsey, who has just come out of retirement to work at the clinic. Ingersoll and Jandra maintain that there are no dangerous side-effects to the drug.

We also meet some of the characters from Jandra, a company that is close to bankruptcy and relying on the new medicine to not only save the company but make their fortunes. They will stop at nothing to ensure not only that the FDA approves their drug, but that they approve it before a competing company can get their product out.

You can see why I would be scared! I come from a family of doctors and nurses, and believe that most of them are motivated by the desire to help others. As Mabry points out in his Author's Note, this is fiction and he has never encountered this situation in his 36 years of medical practice. However, “Given enough power, money and selfcentered [sic] greed, I have no doubt that men and corporations could act in this way. We are fortunate that they do not.” Well, sometimes they do. We know about drugs rushed to market with disastrous results, drugs like Thalidomide and DES, and the generic drug scandal in 1989.

Even though I suspect I'll have nightmares for a while, the book is a good read. Mabry handles the multiple characters deftly. He keeps up the suspense with twists and red herrings and numerous subplots. The “Heart” part is, I assume, the Christian aspect of the story. Several of the characters consult the Bible and avoid worrying about problems by telling themselves that God is in control. Luckily these moments are rare enough that they do not intrude upon the story and do not change the outcome.

There are many people ranting about downsizing the U.S. Government and doing away with agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration. But the FDA is our only protection against those who are so greedy they do not care who suffers or dies as long as they make money. The FDA and the few brave whistleblowers who don't look the other way are the only things standing between me and my nightmares.

What books have given you nightmares?

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