Two of the most acclaimed and prolific writers of medical mysteries are Robin Cook and Michael Palmer. Of course, it depends upon how you define a medical mystery. Often times the subject of the story leans more toward science fiction with mad scientists experimenting on humans or doing creative genetic engineering, as with some of Michael Crichton’s or Steven Spruill’s plots. Bioterrorism and epidemics are two other favorite “medical” topics as depicted by Richard Preston and real life emergency room doctor Daniel Kalla.
Anything to do with forensics is very popular as can be seen with all the CSI series on television. Anthropologists, who study human cultural development, are the focus for Aaron Elkins’ characters. Beverly Connor combines forensics with anthropology in her Diane Fallon books, as does Kathy Reichs in her popular Tempe Brennan book and television series. Forensics in history can be found in the Medieval English series by Arinna Franklin.
Medical examiners, coroners and pathologists are popular jobs for fans of forensic mysteries and thrillers. Marsha Landreth’s coroner, Robert Walker’s female FBI medical examiner and Leonard Goldberg’s female pathologist are examples. Sharyn McCrumb, best noted for her Ballad series, introduced a pathologist with her series character Elizabeth McPherson. Of course, you cannot ignore Patricia Cornwell, who got the ball rolling on this now widely popular topic, or author Tess Gerritsen, who gave up her own medical practice to focus on the antics of female duo Rizzoli and Isles, also a television series.
But just because a series has a doctor in it, doesn’t mean that medicine is the primary focus. Karin Slaughter has an excellent series with continuing character Dr. Sara Linton. The character began as a pediatrician and part-time medical examiner in rural Georgia and then migrated to the emergency room of an Atlanta hospital, where she helps out Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Often it is the strength and growth of the characters rather than their professions that drive the success and popularity of a series.
Psychology and psychiatry are another way to write about one aspect of the medical profession. Psychologists are the prime characters in series written by G. H. Ephron, Jonathan Kellerman, Stephen White and Anna Salter, a real life authority on sex offenders. Psychiatrists take front stage with writer Keith Ablow. So if you like psychological thrillers or whacko protagonists, such as Hannibal Lecter created by Thomas Harris, there are many authors from which to choose. Kellerman and White are especially fruitful.
If your medical interest leans more toward the nursing field, you might want to check out ex-trauma nurse Eileen Dreyer from St. Louis, Missouri, Mary Kittredge’s books from the 1990s, or the late, prolific Mignon G. Eberhart. Eberhart was considered by many to be America’s Agatha Christie and her writing career lasted almost sixty years, beginning in 1929 with her nurse series. Ann McMillan wrote a 4-book series about a Civil War nurse for those of you who like a little history in your mystery. Christine Green does a series involving a nurse detective in Britain with an undertaker as her sidekick. Leah Ruth Robinson, an EMT in New York, has a series about an emergency room doctor, and James Tucker does one on surgeons.
For those of you who like serial mysteries, these authors should keep you busy for a while. No doubt there are many others. Don’t forget to keep your ears open for standouts in the stand-alone medical mystery list, too.