I’ve been dubbed a medical thriller or medical suspense writer. It’s true. Medicine plays a pivotal role in my work. And I apply my twenty-plus years of experience in working on the frontlines at a downtown ER to imbue my stories with authenticity. But I also use my fiction to deconstruct medical issues that are controversial, topical, and especially impactful. My goal is always to inform while, hopefully, providing nail-biting entertainment. I’ve tackled big themes, including the devastation of the opioid epidemic, the rise of superbugs, and of course, the threat of the next pandemic, which no longer seems a topic necessary for fictional treatment. My latest novel, Lost Immunity, addresses the deadly serious issue of vaccine hesitancy and its potential impact on a global outbreak. And I am fiercely committed to spreading that message any way I can.
I grew up inspired by realistic storytellers such as James Michener, Ken Follett, and Michael Crichton. I wholly believe that good stories can also educate. And maybe that is why is I am drawn to fiction writers who highlight vital social and scientific themes through their novels. And fortunately, there is an abundance of Canadian authors who do that exceptionally well. And here is my list of a handful of examples of that artful skill.
Gutter Child, by Jael Richardson
I doubt this dystopian novel could be much more topical, especially considering the vast disparities in our society that we are facing. Through the journey and struggles of one "gutter child," as they are known in this not-so-alternate reality, Richardson weaves a gripping story that explores the vital themes of power imbalance and injustice.
The Arrangement, by Robyn Harding
I love Harding’s delicious, dark and sexy thrillers. But in The Arrangement, she sheds light on the dark culture of “sugar daddies”, where young women—the so-called “sugar babies”—fall into relationships with sketchy older men, largely for the financial support. Through her propulsive writing, she shows just how toxic and dangerous these relationships can be.
The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline
In this nightmarish post-apocalyptical novel, Dimaline offers the ultimate allegory for the exploitation of our Indigenous Peoples. In the story, the rest of society relies on the bone marrow of Indigenous people to stave off insanity, and the teenaged hero and his friend has to evade the lethal “recruiters” who are literally after their blood. It’s a chilling metaphor for the brutal impacts of colonialism in our country.
Downfall, by Robert Rotenberg
Rotenberg has been called “Canada’s John Grisham” for his gritty legal thrillers flavoured with his real-life experience as a criminal lawyer. Downfall delves into the national scourge that is Canada’s homelessness crisis, and shines a light on the wealth disparity that’s fueling it. Rotenberg brings the issue to the fore through eyes of the disenfranchised unhoused people who are at risk of becoming victims of senseless violent crime.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
This dark elegiac novel tells the story of a travelling troupe of actors wandering through a wasteland ravaged by pandemic. For me, it couldn’t be much more relevant than today, after a year of fighting off our own pandemic. Despite the very bleak world St. John Mandel portrays, she still somehow offers a hopeful message for humanity.
An ordinary day: The city of Seattle is stunned when a deadly bacteria tears through a nearby Bible camp. Early tests reveal the illness is a form of meningitis, and the camp’s residents are among its most vulnerable victims: children and teenagers.
A new vaccine: Facing a rapidly rising death rate, Seattle’s chief public health officer, Lisa Dyer, and her team quickly take all steps necessary to contain the devastating outbreak. And when further testing reveals that the strain of the bacteria is one that caused catastrophic losses in Iceland six months before, Lisa decides to take a drastic step: she contacts Nathan Hull, vice president of a pharmaceutical company that is doing final-phase trials on a viable vaccine, and asks him to release it early for use on the city’s population.
An epidemic in the making: Lisa gets the go-ahead on her controversial plan, despite the protests of dubious government officials, anti-vaxxers, and even those on her own team. Vaccine clinics roll out across the city, and the risky strategy appears to be working, leaving Lisa, Nathan, and thousands of others breathing a sigh of relief. Until people start dying from mysterious and horrific causes—and the vaccine itself is implicated.
But what if science isn’t to blame?
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