Bitter Medicine by Sara Paretsky


Pros: sounded good, on the back cover

Cons: dull story, unlikeable characters

I had such high hopes for Sara Paretsky’s Bitter Medicine.  From the description on the back cover it sounded like something right up my alley.  A medical thriller that would have private investigator V. I. Warshawski crawling through the underbelly of a hospital seeking the truth behind some deaths.  Malpractice?  Something even more sinister?  I thought I was in for a treat.

Sadly, Bitter Medicine left a bitter taste in my mouth.  It was not thrilling.  In fact, it was quite dull.  The big reveal – the giant surprise – the huge climax – I’m still waiting for it.  Such as it was, the story went on, and then it ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.

This case is personal for V. I. Warshawski. Her friend Consuelo’s pregnancy is already considered high-risk.  The girl is only sixteen, she’s diabetic, and hasn’t had the best prenatal care.  When she goes into early labor while out of town, V. I. rushes her to the nearest hospital.  Supposedly a hospital with a top-notch neonatal staff.  Yet, sadly, mother and baby die.

V. I. thinks there might be more to the story than poor luck on the part of mother and baby. She thinks something is going on, at the hospital.  And she is on the case.  Along the way she’ll discover some interesting things about the hospital and its staff.  And, she’ll find her own life in danger when it’s clear that someone is very determined to keep some things secret.

As the bodies start piling up, V. I. knows she’s onto something… something big.

It all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s not.  I was expecting some real thrills, some very strange goings-on at the hospital, something that helps explain the deaths.  But for the most part, the poor mother and baby are forgotten about.  Or at least that’s how it felt.  Like they were pushed to the back burner while V. I. tackles a bunch of other issues that keep piling up.

Further, if I hadn’t read a bunch of other books in the series, I would seriously dislike V. I., and doubt her investigative abilities. She’s downright nasty in this book. Even her friends get the brunt of her moodiness.  And she doesn’t come off as very competent or caring.  Her good friend and neighbor, a character who appears in many of the books, goes so far out on a limb to help her and she barely says “Thanks”.

But the worst part is that the book simply meanders for a long time before finally coming back to its main point. Why did mother and baby die?  If you want to know the answer, feel free to skip the entire middle section of the book and flip to the end.  Because the entire middle is filled with all kinds of stuff that doesn’t help answer the question.

Basically, it’s just a poorly-written novel. You end up with a dull book, unlikeable characters, and a story that doesn’t hold together.  Paretsky (and V. I. Warshawski) can do so much better!


Also by Sara Paretsky:

Hard Time

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