by Robin Cook
G P Putnam & Sons 2008
I have not read a Robin Cook novel for quite some time. So when I saw the newest novel on the library shelf, I grabbed it.
There is a new area of tourism that is rapidly increasing. It's called Medical Tourism and it involves patients from the western countries (mostly USA) who fly to New Delhi in India, to have medical procedures done in private hospitals. These patients pay out of pocket for these procedures either because they cannot afford the costs of the health insurance required back in USA, or more likely their insurance company has denied their request for the specific procedure.
This is a very common problem in USA. Usually these procedures are elective. They are not medically necessary to save the patients life right now, but if the problem is left alone, the patient will eventually die.
Jennifer Hernandez is a 4th year medical stduent at UCLA University Medical school in Los Angeles. She was raised by her grandmother Maria Hernandez in New York City.
One day Jenifer hears a news item on CNN that an American woman, Maria Hermandez from Queens, NYC, has died in a private hospital in New Delhi after having a hip replacement operation. Jennier calls her fsther to find out where her grandmother is. She is shocked when he tells her that Maria went to India to get the operation done.
Jennifer contacts the company ion Chicago that set up the visit. Its called Foriegn Medical Solutions. They tell Jennifer that her grandmother is doing fine and that she is resting well as eating. They give Jennifer the phoen number of the Queen Victoria Hosiptal in Delhi. Jennifer cals them and is eventually connected with the voicemail of her grandmother's case officer Kashmira Varini. The hoapital operator also assures Jennifer that her mother is recovering nicely.
A few hours later, Kashmiri Varini calls and the nightmare begins. Yes Maria is dead. How would Jennifer (as next of kin) like the body to be dealt with? Embalming or Cremation? They need an answer today. Jennifer demures and tells Varini that she does not want anything done to the body until she gets there. She has the right to say goodbye. So Jennifer takes time off from her residency and flies to India.
Every time Jennifer speaks to Varini on her cell phone, she is pushed for an answer as to what to do with the body. Jennifer wants an autopsy. The Indians refuse to allow it. It can only be embalming or cremation.
As a medical student Jennifer begins to wonder what they are covering up. Maria's death certificate said it was a heart attack. Jenifer knows that Maria was given a clean bill of health at UCLA just the month before and that her heart was in excellent condition.
Just before Jennifer flies to India there is another news item on CNN. Another american has died in the same private hospital. He too was listed as having an heart attack. When Jennifer arrives in India there is a third item on CNN - a third American with a heart problem has died. This time he was a young man - just 40 years old with a wife and two young children. Patients from the USA are now cancelling their operations in large numbers.
Jennifer begins asking questions and they hospital staff refuse to answer them, They continue to push Jennifer to answer their question. Embalming or Cremation?
Jennifer knows that if either are done, no autopsy is possible. Jennifer calls on her mentor Laurie Montgomery back in the USA to come and help. Laurie and her husband Jack are both forensic pathologists and they do autopsies as a matter of routine.
When Laurie and Jack arrive, they must sneak Marias body out of the hospital cafeteria cooler (where it has been kept) and take it to another private hospital with autopsy equipment. There Jack and Laurie discover that Maria died of too much anasthesia. They take photographs.
Upon their return to Jennifers hotel, they discover that Jennifer has been kidnapped. The kidnappers are those who have been killing the patients and they want to know what caused Jennifer to become suspicious so that that she refused to allow embalming or cremation.
Jennifer escapes with the help of one of the nurses - specifically the one who killed her grandmother. The killers are arrested and Veena (the nurse who killed Maria) is allowed to come to UCLA on a medical scholarship to attend UCLA medical school.
This was an excellent novel. As always Cook has done his tresearch well. I could not stop reading it and I read it all in 24 hours - allowing for sleeping and eating.