Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fauquier Hospital's excellence is no mystery

I love it when I’m reading a book and find references to places I know. I always compare the author’s descriptions with personal mental notes of my home turf. In one of Janet Evanovich’s books, Stephanie Plum, a spunky heroine from New Jersey and her handsome man of mystery take a trip down to Northern Virginia. They talk about the dreaded Beltway and nearby environs.

Jody Jaffe, another popular mystery writer, is a newspaper reporter living in Virginia’s Horse Country. Makes me feel right at home.

I was delighted to find out that the new Michael Palmer book, “The First Patient,” published in February, mentions Fauquier Hospital prominently. How cool.

In the book, two of the characters are riding horses in Flint Hill. Shots are fired and the woman falls off her ride. She is badly hurt – with a broken shoulder, a punctured lung, severe bleeding and shock – and is rushed to Fauquier.

The hero of the story is the President’s personal physician. He says to his boss, “I stayed at Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton with her until they had inserted a chest tube, given her a pint of blood, and she was stabilized. For a small place – or even a big place for that matter – that hospital’s really quite terrific…. If you could send out a presidential something or other to them, I know they’d appreciate it.”

“Done,” said the President.

OK, so it’s only fiction, but that’s pretty neat.

I’d never read any Michael Palmer before, though he’s written about a dozen mystery novels -- that’s my favorite kind of story.

I found “The First Patient,” like many modern popular thrillers, long on plot but a little short on character. Personally, I prefer it the other way around.

Oh, I like a good, fast-moving plot, but I love quirky, funny characters that you get to know through the choices they make and the things and people they care about: Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsey; Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak; Hiaasen’s The Governor, Robert B. Parker’s Spencer (better than the TV show).

Call me simple, but I love these characters because they are all perfectly principled and perfectly consistent. I have never said to myself about any of these characters: “Oh, they wouldn’t do that.”

There are plenty of surprises in every book, but the main players are always true to themselves – or the “selves” that have been carefully constructed by their creators.
In Palmer’s book, I didn’t feel that I got to know any of the characters well enough to see their actions as either consistent or inconsistent. The twists and turns of the intricate medical drama took center stage and didn’t leave room for real (OK, fictional) people.

Perhaps, for inspiration, Palmer should spend a couple of busy evenings in the Fauquier Hospital Emergency Room, or watch a few new lives come into the world up in the Birthing Center. There’s enough “real life” there for a couple of novels – or a couple hundred.

Plenty of interesting characters and medical wisdom to pass on, too.
It’s like he said, “that hospital’s really quite terrific.”

No comments: