I think that Blood Work was probably one of several crime novels that I have picked up during my trawls of the second-hand book stalls while staying with my grandparents. As such, this was probably more or less a whim purchase, picked up for a striking blurb.
Blood Work follows Terry McCaleb, a retired FBI agent who is taking time out to renovate his late father’s boat whilst he recovers from a heart transplant. The last thing he is looking for is someone knocking at his door asking him for help. But when the sister of his new heart’s donor comes by, he finds out that he is only alive as a result of a murder and he cannot bring himself to refuse the woman’s request for help in finding the killer.
I wanted to like Blood Work more than I did. At its core, there is a solid enough mystery with some interesting turns and some genuine surprises worked into the mix. My main problem with it is that there are some pretty big departures from reality that are difficult to ignore, for me at least. You see, in my day job I work as hospital administration. So when the book makes all these errors about how hospital systems and security works, it makes me more than a little antsy. Firstly, there’s the fact that Graciela, the victim’s sister, meets up with McCaleb a mere two months after he’s had his transplant, but only a couple of days since she actually started looking for him. Considering how much emphasis healthcare systems put on keeping donations private, you would think that it would take her years if she could figure it out at all. But nope. One article and the knowledge that he got a heart transplant right around the time that her sister was murdered and she rushes out to meet this guy on a hunch and just completely bypasses a system of anonymity set up in order to protect patient confidentiality. Later on, there’s a particular system at the hospital that McCaleb needs to take a look at, and since he can’t get an official warrant due to being retired, he manages to persuade two separate healthcare professionals to completely ignore their duty to protect their patients’ confidential information and gets them to pull both patient and donor records. I’m sorry, but I call so much bullshit here. It’s quite funny really, because mere paragraphs later he feels guilty for committing a crime by briefly impersonating a police officer, when he’s already made his friends do far worse. I read this and had to conclude that Connelly either didn’t know much about how hospitals work or just didn’t care to be accurate, because I can’t think of a single consultant or nurse who would risk being struck off or be stuck with a civil/criminal lawsuit all on the word of one civilian working on their own with no court order. He’d be kicked out before he could even finish introducing the idea. Considering that the law enforcement bit seems to ring more or less true, it disappoints me that the healthcare system is written so poorly. I appreciate that this may be a minor thing to most readers, but after two years in the NHS this stood out like a sore thumb and it just pissed me off to no end.
My other issue with Blood Work is that the ending seemed a bit clunky compared to the rest of the novel. For the majority of the book, there’s a nice consistent pace that’s fast enough to be gripping, but not so fast that it becomes exhausting. Then with about 40 pages to go, it has a moment where everything screeches to a halt, lull you into thinking that it’s ending, then start up again. The last 30 pages didn’t fit right because the pace seemed so uneven compared to what had gone before. More of a minor quibble for me, but for people not pissed off by basic misunderstandings of how hospitals work, I would imagine that this is the more pressing issue.
Really, I think I would have enjoyed this a hell of a lot more if Connelly had put the same effort that he puts into depicting law enforcement into his depiction of healthcare systems. As someone who works in a hospital, the liberties that he takes with patient confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it are glaring enough to completely distract me from the narrative itself. Not a bad crime thriller, but it has a lot of creative liberties taken that don’t pay off. 3/5
Next review: I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan