Zol Szabo, is public health doctor for the Hamilton Ontario region. He is also a single parent to nine year-old, Max, because his wife could not deal with Max’s mild physical disability. He is dating Colleen an attractive woman detective whom he met in the previous novel. The story opens with Zol’s angst over his son’s expensive misuse of a cell phone that he’d been given for safety reasons.

Soon he and his team are investigating cases of diarrhea in a seniors’ residence.  The diagnosis is difficult—but the doctors are confident they know what it is; however, the recommended treatments prove ineffective. Gradually they begin to suspect that the drugs are not working because they might be fake. Even worse, they notice that the people infected are all taking the same arthritis medicine—could that drug be the source of the infection?

In the background an unbending hospital administration and a hostile boss make the situation even worse.

A team of elderly friends who reside in the senior’s home collaborate to help solve the mystery. And of course the son’s cell phone is crucial to the dramatic conclusion.



This is the second Zol Szabo mystery. Like the first, the resolution to these mysterious cases trades on superb medical reasoning and vivid imagination.

The unconscionable idea of a pharmacist tampering with drugs—either to remove their expensive contents or to deliberately infect capsules with bacteria--is terrifying for its simplicity and possibility.  Pennie constructs a plausible rationale for the deviance with a scenario involving the wrongful imprisonment in Mexico of the druggist’s son.

The wisdom, mutual affection, and quirkiness of the older people in this story is an eloquent subplot that also raises issues about institutional life of the elderly. Character vignettes of Zol’s colleagues are well done: the irascible, not-quite-out gay physician colleague and the lonely first generation Indo-Canadian microbiologist who must thwart her mother in order to search for a husband. Thanks to Colleen, the microbiologist goes incognito as a sari-wearing Indian and is shocked to discover how invisible she becomes.

This whodunnit is fun for those readers with medical training and sobering for those without. I will never again pop a medication capsule without thinking about its contents. The one false note is Colleen. She is not credible for the constellation of her stunning gorgeousness, intellectual brilliance, and arrogant idiocy. Even less credible is Zol’s humble infatuation with her—but maybe such fantasies are how overworked public-health officers get through their days.

The author has had a thirty-year career in infectious diseases and emergency medicine.  His novels center on issues that are the daily fare of public health work.



ECW Press

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