The Magazine for Crime & Mystery




John Lescroart

Headline at £17.99



Reviewed by Mike Jecks

It's always good to be introduced to a new writer who can tell a good story, and this one gripped me enough to make me want to read more of his stuff. Lescroart is one of those lucky folks who came to writing quite late and immediately made a splash.

His first novel, THE 13TH JUROR, went straight into the best seller lists in the States, and nine subsequent books have all hit the high note. Apparently he decided to try his hand at writing after recovering from meningitis (his doctors gave him two hours to live); a case of, life isn't a rehearsal, so do what you want to do.

This story is about medicine, and it covers just about every aspect of the US health system. Those who want to see the NHS broken up should read this book just to see how badly things can go wrong. I have no idea how accurately this book describes hospitals in America, never having been inside on, but there is a sureness to the writing that feels very accurate. Tim Markham, the CEO of Parnassus, a major healthcare provider, is hit by a car and taken straight to his own hospital. He's pretty badly knocked about, and has to go into intensive care, but then he suddenly dies. No one is overly surprised by his death - it's one of those things - but then his wife commits suicide and murders their three children that same night. Except there are some curious points about her death - for example, why should she kill the family dog as well?

What appears to be a routine hit and run road traffic accident followed by a tragic suicide is complicated further because Parnassus is the City's own healthcare provider, and the company has just sent the Mayor a bill for millions of dollars to save it from bankruptcy. They under-quoted the City when agreeing the original contract and now they can't afford to stay in business. The main protagonist is Diz Hardy, attorney to the key suspect, Dr Eric Kensing. Kensing hated his boss because Markham was having an affair with his wife. As luck would have it, Markham was in charge of intensive care when Markham was brought in, and Kensing was there when Markham died. However Hardy soon learns that there are rumours of something bad going on in the intensive care unit. Perhaps Markham's wasn't the first death after all.

This story is vast. It takes in medical ethics, drug companies, the perversions of money and the corrupting effect on big corporations which have to look at the bottom line and weigh up the value of a life compared with their profits. From that perspective it is scary. Then again, I have never felt so well briefed on the American justice system either - especially the impact that protecting a client can have on an attorney. Reading this, I began to comprehend why Americans tend to hate lawyers. Compelling, hard to put down, and covering a broad range of issues to do with modern society as well as having a cast of entirely believable characters, I think Lescroart has pulled off a great one with THE OATH. For my money, he's infinitely better than Grisham.

Buy it and try it.

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