Sandra Block’s Neurological World
Developed over thousands of years, modern medicine is something that very few of us actually understand, even our best doctors only having a grasp on the very specific areas they have devoted their entire lives to. While the general public has some form of vague knowledge about the craft, we seldom really know what things look like from the other side of the doctor’s desk. For this reason, writers with actual medical experience tend to be highly-valued in the world of books, being able to weave their unique insights and experiences into their stories, rendering them more realistic and even educative in some cases. Sandra Block is certainly part of that exclusive conglomerate, being both a writer and practicing neurologist. Her ability to translate her personal knowledge onto paper is quite remarkable, and I believe one of the best places to witness it is the third book in Zoe Goldman series, titled The Secret Room.
To give you a brief idea of what we’re looking at here, Zoe Goldman is a doctor and a new psychiatry fellow at a correctional facility, still trying to learn her way around without running into any unsolicited stabbings and the like. After all, she is amongst dangerous prisoners, and they have twenty-four hours a day to think about ways in which they can beat the system. However, soon an unscrupulous rumour is passed around: Zoe Goldman is in fact an angel of death, giving the ultimate peace to patients whose cases are without hope… or perhaps she’s just a tremendously incompetent doctor. Either way, things aren’t looking good for Zoe who is overcharging her brain trying to understand what’s happening. Her desire to find the truth will put her on a collision course with a nemesis she couldn’t expect, one that will go as far as killing others to ruin her… before taking her life as well.
Before moving on, I just want to add a disclaimer that you don’t necessarily have to read the books in order to understand them: they share the same protagonist but deal with different stories. While it is true that they build upon each other for character development, it’s not a big enough deal to force you to start from book one.
An Ethical Mystery
The groundwork laid out for the story to follow is quite simple in its essence: Zoe must solve the mystery of the patient deaths at the hospital, all while simultaneously struggling with personal issues conducive to character development. It’s a framework we’ve seen time and time again, thankfully never getting old and consistently pumping out gems for the readers; after all, who doesn’t love a good murder mystery with a bit of drama sprinkled here and there?
In this case, the main plot is actually quite engaging for a couple of reasons. To begin with, the strong enigmatic atmosphere remains throughout the whole book and whatever answers we find only raise new questions to keep us going up until the very end. It’s simply engaging to watch a tough, likeable and smart protagonist follow the thread to see the surprising vistas it leads to. Sandra Block knows when to withhold information and exactly which scraps to feed us, properly leading us on with the carrot so to speak, but with a worthy reward at the end.
Additionally, as you might have guessed, this plot touches on the subject mercy killing, which is a topic that I feel will remain relevant to our lives for decades, if not centuries to come. There is a whole lot to be said and debated on the matter and many points of view to be taken into account. Block doesn’t preach or force her views upon anyone, leaning more towards sharing observations in a neutral capacity.
Years of Experience
I mentioned earlier how Sandra Block is part of the small group of writers that have actual medical experience and can skillfully translate that into fictional stories, and that really comes to the fore on many occasions. The medical facility inside the prison Zoe works at is described in tremendously interesting and accurate detail, from the processes and mechanics to the staff members and their relations with each other. As the reader, there’s never any doubt that Block knows what she’s talking about and that she’s trying to integrate the countless things she has learned over the years. As a matter of fact, the same amount of attention was given to the prison itself which only shows how far the author went in her research.
This attention to setting-creation is what, in my opinion, elevates the book above many of its peers in the medical thriller genre. You are always interested to see what every corner of this world holds in store for you, not really knowing where this unusual environment can take you next, what it might reveal in its dark underbelly.
The Final Verdict
In the end, I would venture to say that The Secret Room is one of the best medical thrillers that has been released on the shelves in recent memory. It has everything from fleshed out, unique and likeable characters, to an engaging mystery set in a highly-detailed and interesting backdrop, complete with some food for thought on a hotly contested topic of modern times. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a thriller that will stimulate them in a every way a book possibly can.
Sandra Block is an American writer from Buffalo, New York who, after graduating from a college at Harvard, became a practicing neurologist. Her works have been published across a large number of medical journals, in addition to which she also found the time to write the Zoe Goldman series, which includes the critically-acclaimed novel Little Black Lies.