Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Too Many Doctors: Review

Trehane operated on a basis of thoroughness: do everthing, do it properly, follow up, check. If he had ever had a moment of intuition, he had slept it off.

Too Many Doctors by Holly Roth (1962). The passengers aboard the M.S. Tilburg, a small German ship, expect a pleasant, uneventful trip to the Far East. But before picking up the last of its European travelers, they have already lost a member of the crew--the ships's doctor--to apparent food poisoning and are forced to take on a replacement as well as passengers at Southampton. 

The ship hasn't even left British waters when an attractive young woman falls downstairs on her way to her cabin and the new doctor has his first patient. Or perhaps she was pushed? Her injuries seem a bit extensive for an accidental fall. If she was pushed, her assailant is lucky--she is suffering from amnesia as a result of her fall. One of her fellow passengers, Dr. Maxwell Owings, is a famous neurosurgeon and he is called upon by the ill-tempered captain to give assistance. Before he can make a complete initial examination, the woman is attacked with a razor blade. 

Dr. Owings begins to smell a rat...the ship's doctor insists the new cuts are simply reopening of wounds sustained in the fall and the captain takes great offense to a suggestion that a report needs to made to the officials ("I am the official!"). Then when another passenger is shoved into an empty swimming pool and is evading questions about who she think did it, Owings becomes even more insistent on an investigation.

Back in London, a psychoanalyst is found shot to death in his office and Inspector Richard Medford begins investigations that involve the doctor's previous involvement with an abortion ring, possible blackmail, and maybe even drug trafficking. Then a body is fished out the Thames--surprise, another doctor! Connections are made with the German shipping line and an autopsy report reveals that the Tilburg's doctor was, indeed, poisoned...but not by food. Medford is sent to meet the ship in Genoa and to establish whether all these apparently unrelated events are part of the same murderous spree. His colleague, Inspector Trehane, follows up clues from England, Germany, and America to help Medford tie it all together.
Well, the title says it all. "Too Many." Too many doctors. Too many dead doctors. Too many people who don't know who they are. Or who aren't who they say they are. Too many injuries and illnesses. Too many suspects. Too many motives. Too many random connections. And one "too much"--as in a plot twist that reminded me a little too much of one of Dame Agatha Christie's well-known ploys. [Spoiler: highlight apparent empty space, if you don't mind a reveal] While Owings is not the narrator, his involvement is very like that of the narrator in Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We, the reader, get to know, like, and trust him. I, for one, was disappointed with his part in the murders and attacks.

What Holly Roth does well is character. This is no 400+ pager with the long-drawn out passages of detail that seem to be the norm in the door-stop-sized detective fiction of today. It tops out at a mere 204 pages and Roth manages to give us snippet snapshots (such as the opening description of Trehane) that tell us exactly what kind of person we're dealing with. Trehane is a careful plodder, but his checking & double-checking are essential and his thoroughness complements his colleague's (Inspector Medford's) tendency to make leaps of intuition. They sometimes irritate one another, but make a very good team. The short descriptions of the crew and passengers are also well-done and instantly draw the reader's sympathies or suspicions.

The mystery plot itself is quite convoluted--with none of Christie's expertise at pulling all the threads together in one coherent picture. A couple of lines would have been plenty and would have made for a much smoother narrative. ★★ mostly for character and Medford's valiant attempt to explain how it all related.

This fulfills the "Medical Mystery" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


fredamans said...

Not sure I could get into this one. Great review!

Katherine P said...

Hmm... While I like the basic premise the narration sounds a bit convoluted. I've read a few too many books lately that seem to be too much. I definitely won't rush to pick this one up though I might grab it at a library sale.