Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson. My thanks to Sofia at Midas PR for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy. Do check out the posts by my tour buddies for today, Joanna at Over The Rainbow Book Blog and Amanda at Ginger Book Geek.
About the Book
The year is 1999. Returning to practice after a suspension for stealing opioids, a young Scottish doctor takes the only job he can find: a post as a senior house officer in the struggling east London hospital of St Luke’s.
Amid the maelstrom of sick patients, over-worked staff and underfunded wards a darker secret soon declares itself: too many patients are dying.
Which of the medical professionals our protagonist has encountered is behind the murders? And can our unnamed narrator’s version of the events be trusted?
Format: Hardback (368 pages) Publisher: The Borough Press
Publication date: 1st September 2022 Genre: Crime, Thriller
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I really enjoyed this fascinating mix of medical memoir, with its realistic insight into the challenges of being a junior doctor in a busy hospital, and intriguing murder mystery. I suspect anyone who has ever worked in a hospital setting will recognise the long hours, the exhausting night shifts, the challenge of scarce resources, the neverending paperwork and the snatched meal breaks depicted by the author. And, of course, the life and death decisions junior doctors are required to make, often in a state of near exhaustion. Those in the medical profession will no doubt also be impressed by the level of detail of diagnostic techniques, medical interventions and drug regimes, something that could surely only come from someone with the author’s background.
The voice of the unnamed narrator is sardonic, cynical and displays the black humour that is often a prequisite for getting through the day, for processing the traumatic things witnessed day in and day out, and coming to terms with the fact that despite best efforts ‘sometimes people die’. Having said that there’s also lot of gentle humour. For example, the ‘granny-dumping’ that occurs on Fridays preceding a summer bank holiday weekend, our narrator’s sessions with his narcoleptic CBT therapist or the medical examination case study that turns out to be a little difficult.
Our narrator is unsparing when it comes to admitting his own weaknesses, meaning the reader never loses sympathy with him even during his most serious lapses and expecially when he finds himself under suspicion of involvement in what turns out to be a case of murder. His compassion and dedication to his patients is never in doubt, unless of course you agree with the detectives assigned to the case that’s he’s the obvious culprit. I particularly loved his friendship with the affable George whose offer of a room allows him to escape from his previous accommodation, aka Stalag Motorsport.
For those beginning to think this sounds too much like a medical memoir, I can reassure you that at the heart of the book is an intriguing, cleverly constructed murder mystery with plenty of red herrings and false trails… or should that be debatable diagnoses and misleading symptoms. There are unexpected revelations akin to suddenly drawing back the cubicle curtains around a hospital bed and at one point a rather different form of intensive care. And I don’t think there are many books where a cactus and an articulated skeleton called Patrick play a significant role in the story, although I’m happy to be corrected on that.
Another thing I enjoyed about the book are the occasional sections that describe real life murderers who practiced medicine, from famous cases such as Dr. Crippen and Harold Shipman to less well-known ones. What’s surprising – or perhaps depressing is a better word – is how long in some cases it took for their crimes to be discovered, either through negligence or a kind of medical omerta.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sometimes People Die‘s blend of dark humour, skilfully constructed plot and convincing detail.
In three words: Clever, witty, intriguing
About the Author
Simon Stephenson originally trained as a doctor and worked in Scotland and London. He previously wrote Let Not the Waves of the Sea, a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It won Best First Book at the Scottish Book Awards, was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, and a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year.
His first novel, Set My Heart to Five was a Bookseller Book of the Month and was described by the Daily Mail as ‘Funny, original and thought-provoking.’ It has been optioned by Working Title Films to be directed by Edgar Wright from Stephenson’s screenplay.
He currently lives in Los Angeles, in a house where a famous murder took place. As a screenwriter, he originated and wrote the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and wrote the story for Pixar’s Luca. He also contributed to everybody’s favourite film, Paddington 2.