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The Five Best Medical Mystery Novels of All Time

Medical Mystery: Lose Yourself in the Amazing Investigative Work

Have you ever wanted a good book to read but didn't want to waste your time on a book that leaves you wanting more when you are finished?  I know what that feels like because it has happened to me many times.  I read many kinds of books, but one of my favorite is Medical Mystery novels.  I love to lose myself in the investigative tactics used by the protagonists to solve murder and puzzling disease cases.  I decided to create this Hub for others like myself who want advice on great book titles that won't leave them wondering why they wasted their time.  So without further adieu, here are my top five picks for Medical Mystery enthusiasts like myself.

The Eleventh Plague by John S. Marr M.D. and John Baldwin

Many people believe in Armageddon. How do you think it could happen? Maybe a nuclear disaster. Maybe a meteor landing on the earth snuffing out all life in its wake. Or maybe the ten plagues predicted by Moses in the Book of Exodus will return. This is the premise in the plot for the novel The Eleventh Plague. Authors John S. Marr, M.D. and John Baldwin have written the most spine tingling medical thriller that I have ever read.

Deadly diseases lurk all around us. Anthrax, MRSA, West Nile Virus, and SARS have all been in the media so much over the last eight years that these deadly little creatures are becoming famous around the world. Throughout history, plagues have been documented and recorded, and the majority of them are naturally occurring phenomena. The Bubonic Plague destroyed on-third of Europe's population in the Middle Ages. The Spanish Influenza is estimated to have killed 50,000 people in 1918. These are plagues that could never be prevented nor foreseen.

The Eleventh Plague will entice you into the Biblical doomsday of current time, but now it is created by a psychopath instead of a Deity. Swarms (Swarms Plague 4) of killer bees rise out of nowhere to attack innocent people celebrating Easter. Purified anthrax spores are put into a child's toy water gun for the sole purpose of terrorizing the community (Boils Plague 6). People begin to die from a rare form of a neurological illness caused by tapeworms (Locusts Plague 8).

How does the killer create all of these potent scientific concoctions without being noticed? There are many more underlying twists to the story, including a grudge held between a forensic toxicologist and an infectious disease specialist. This novel is so terrifyingly close to reality that it is sure to make anyone wonder how easy it would be for a terrorist to bring The Eleventh Plague down on humanity.

Even without a medical background, this novel will amaze you. It is extremely well written, and though fictional, the plot is not outside the realm of reality.


A Cold Mind by David Lindsey

Set in Houston, Texas, A Cold Mind by David Lindsey will keep you at the edge of your seat from page one. As homicide detective Stuart Haydon investigates multiple deaths of high priced call girls, he tries to determine if their deaths are linked. Are these deaths a suicide pact, or are these women acquiring some sort of fatal disease associated with their line of work? Is some evil maniac targeting these women in some deranged plot, or is someone trying to make a statement? He considers all of these questions as he interviews neighbors and friends of the victims. Evidence brought forth during the post-mortem examinations reveals very little in the form of clues.

As more women are found dead, Detective Hayden is forced to bring his work home with him. He works tirelessly to gather information, and stays in constant contact with the pathologist, Vanstraten, who is performing the autopsies on each victim. At first they are frustrated. They can find nothing to help them figure out why these girls are dying. There is no common denominator connecting the victims. Some of the women have drugs in their system, others don't. Some of the women are in their 40's, others in their 20's. Some knew each other, and yet not all of them.

Only one factor seems to connect all of the cases. Statements made by the friends of each girl imply that she was very sick for a few days prior to death. They all complained of headache, vomiting, and muscle ache. So together Hayden and Vanstraten work blindly to test for diseases with these symptoms. They check for polio, tetanus, and viral encephalitis, all to no avail, when finally one of the tests they run comes up positive. Rabies. But how? These weren't street prostitutes living in deplorable conditions, these were very wealthy women living the high life. Why would this virus be targeting only the luxury escorts in the town? Did one girl have a pet that harbored the virus and then the others came into contact with it? Is there one man who was spreading the disease unknowingly without getting sick himself? Throughout the novel, Detective Hayden fights to answer all of these questions. When he finally figures out what it is that is really happening even he is chilled that any killer can have such A Cold Mind.

This superior novel is amazingly suspenseful. The possibility that something like this could become reality is evident. The characters come to life almost immediately, dragging the reader into the plot as though they are standing at the crime scene.

Blood Memory by Greg Iles

Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, Blood Memoryby Greg Iles has all of the suspense and spine tingling drama necessary for a sleepless night. This novel is not one to pick up for a few moments of peace and quiet. It is one that will immediately immerse you in the depths of the human psyche and all of its emotional capabilities. The protagonist, Dr. Catherine Ferry, is a forensic odontologist with a secret past that even she knows nothing about. While investigating a series of homicides of middle aged men, "Cat" begins to suffer from what she believes to be panic attacks while at the crime scenes. She is also plagued by recurring nightmares, and even worse yet, she just found out that her affair with Sean Regan, a married detective, has resulted in an unexpected pregnancy.

Cat's coping mechanism has always been to throw herself headlong into her work, but this investigation is causing some weird things to happen to her. She is called upon by the main suspect in the case, Dr. Nathan Malik, to discuss the details, but she has no idea why. During the course of their verbal exchange she finds that he knows much more about her than he should. Dr. Malik, a psychiatrist who specializes in bipolar, post-traumatic stress, and sexual abuse, becomes her obsession. After their meeting she begins to hear and see things that bring back memories of her father who was murdered when she was a child. The sound of rain on a tin roof, nightmares that portray disturbing images of her father and grandfather, and vague memories of others force her to visit her childhood home. Once there she accidentally discovers a child's bloody footprint in her bedroom. She is determined to find out about her own past and what tragic secrets lie deep within her subconscious memory.

How do Cat's repressed memories relate to the murders of multiple middle aged men in New Orleans? Why does the prime suspect in her murder investigation seem to know more about her than she does? Which version of her father's murder should she believe, and how does she find out the truth? Blood Memory is an ominous novel with so many twists and turns in the plot that it has my five star recommendation.

Oh, and by the way, don't skip the acknowledgements in this one. This guy has really done his research!

The Focus of Forensic Odontology (Matching Dental Records to Victims)

Photo supplied by Trinity (Flickr)

Photo supplied by Trinity (Flickr)

Toxin by Robin Cook

Who in the world would eat raw or undercooked meat these days?  Everyone knows about the dangerous bacteria present in some meat that can infect and kill them, don't they?  Why is it so dangerous, doesn't the government protect us from that type of thing?  I thought that was what the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) was for.  Robin Cook puts all of these questions to the test in his medical thriller Toxin.

Dr. Kim Reggis is so excited to spend the weekend with his 10 year old daughter Becky.  He had a rough day at the hospital having to perform all 3 cardiac surgeries in one day.  Ever since Americare bought out the hospital, practicing medicine has become a major headache.  While the cost of running his practice has increased, insurance reimbursements have been decreasing. His only plan for the weekend is to take his beautiful daughter out to eat. They arrive at a popular burger joint called the Onion Ring, and order their meal. The restaurant is packed with customers and Becky is famished.  She can hardly wait to sit down before taking a huge bite out of her hamburger, but the middle is pink.  

The next day, Becky comes down with a mild intestinal illness.  For a few days she suffers through bouts of abdominal cramping and diarrhea.  Suddenly she takes a turn for the worse and is admitted to the hospital.  Tests show that she has a bacterial food-borne illness called E. coli O157:H7.  As she rapidly deteriorates in the hospital, Kim researches everything he can find on the pathogen and its symptoms.  Her kidneys begin to shut down and she is placed on a respirator to keep her alive.  

Finally Dr. Reggis has had enough.  He is determined to find out how a bacterium like this is able to get into the food supply.  With the help of a reporter, Kim goes on a quest to try to stop other children from getting sick. He begins to investigate the slaughterhouse and meat packing industries.  What he ultimately finds out is horrifying.  His daughter is on her death bead, and it all could have been prevented.  Now it is up to him to change things.

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This is an amazing novel not to be missed by any consumer.  There have been news reports of Salmonella in peanut butter, tomatoes, and chicken over the last few years, and that is scary enough.  But have you ever wondered how the food gets past all of the FDA and USDA regulations?  Though fictional, the novel Toxin explains how it may be possible for thousands of people to get sick every year due to the shortcuts and greed that exists within the food industry.


  • Is salmonella going to get me?
    Is salmonella going to get you? The only straight up answer is one that appears wishy-washy and that is maybe. The recent outbreaks of salmonella infection in tomatoes across the United States have many...
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    CDC website, where you can go to stay current on food recalls due to bacterial contamination.

Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell

The technology we have to help solve crimes in today's world is amazing. Entomologists can predict time of death using fly larvae to within hours. We have hair and fiber experts who can determine where a person may have been killed before the perpetrator disposed of the body. We have ballistics evidence to help confirm the type of murder weapon involved. We have DNA sequencing to determine who may have been present at the crime scene. And, of course, probably one of the oldest and most famous technologies, we have fingerprinting to help rule suspects in or out. A novel written by Patricia Cornwell entitled Unnatural Exposure uses all of these technologies, and many more, to try to solve a serial murder case.

In Richmond, Virginia, bodies are being found in local landfills.  Well, not bodies exactly, more like torsos.  The victims were not only murdered, their head and limbs were removed before the bodies were tossed into the trash.  Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Kay Scarpetta is called upon to investigate the crime by performing autopsies on the remains.  Shortly after beginning the investigation into these murders, she begins receiving Internet messages from the killer using the screen name "deadoc".  Images of the limbs and torsos were sent to her as though taunting her.  When her niece Lucy, a computer wizard working for the FBI, is added to the team, they find evidence that the killer is trying to make it look like Dr. Scarpetta is involved somehow.

Before they can figure out why the killer has singled out her aunt, another seemingly unconnected body is discovered on Tangier Island.  Dr. Scarpetta becomes very concerned.  Both the Tangier body and one of the torso's have small skin eruptions resembling a deadly virus that was believed eradicated.  How can her torso and a woman who died in her bedroom both have smallpox?  There hadn't been any smallpox seen in the United States in decades.  Her exposure to the virus requires her to be quarantined.  This is when the others on the task force come up with an elaborate plan to entice the killer to a chat room in the hopes of gaining some ground in the investigation.

Who is this madman and why is Dr. Scarpetta being singled out?  How has an eradicated disease been resurrected?  Was it just coincidence that one of the torso's had smallpox, or did the killer mastermind the whole potential pandemic?  These are all questions that must be answered before it is too late and more people become victims.

Forensic Entomology Video


DM on December 17, 2017:

I would definitely add the medical fiction of Dimitri Markov, a physician and writer of intense medical fiction on the theme of Dangerous Doctors. He writes about that ill-defined boundary between medical fact and fiction. Some of his books include The Surrogate, Vera Mortina and Her Charm Was Contagious.

IanDorsett on March 30, 2016:

Nothing by Frank Slaughter?

Snakesmum on September 07, 2014:

Haven't read any of these, but next time I'm at the library, I'll definitely be looking for Unnatural Exposure - sounds like a great read. Thanks.

Boris Datnow on June 24, 2011:

FYI: did you know about non forensic autopsies? autopsies performed on hose who died of Natural Causes. Read: The Final Diagnosis: What the Autopsy Reveals About Life and Death, which describes actual cases histories, salted with clues to read like a medical mystery.

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on February 28, 2011:

I've exhausted my own list- Thank you for this. I'm off to the library!

rpims99 from Maryland on September 13, 2010:

Your page is cool. I had not yet seen the little voting forms. Nice touch. I would like to read the 3 of the five that I have not read, b/c if they made your top 5 along with cook and cornwall, I believe I'd like them as well.

Mickie’s Little Red Wagon from The South on August 23, 2010:

You have reviewed two books I would like to read--Bloody Memory and A Cold Mind. Might have to find them on audio.

Eddie on April 13, 2010:

How could you fail to list the best of all medical mystery authors, the incomparable Michael Palmer?

kochu on March 20, 2010:

Now I'm feeling sad !!! Haven't read any of them. The fact that I'm a medico makes things worse ;( Gonna get the books asap..!!!

scheng1 on February 27, 2010:

A Cold Mind seems very interesting. I shall borrow it from the library, and hope it wont disappoint.

Claire Datnow on December 14, 2009:

Thanks for you excellent site. For medical mystery enthusiast The Final Diagnosis: What Autopsies Reveal About Life and Death, would make an excellent adjunct.

oldness49 from on September 10, 2009:

Great and very interesting blog!

Richard Goutal on May 16, 2009:

I'll have to take a look. I am a fan of Gary Braver and Michael Palmer. Braver's Flashback is one of the most convincing stories I've read (considering its make believe!). Thanks for good reviews.

LondonGirl from London on January 15, 2009:

The only one of those I've read is "Toxin", which to be honest was entertaining but dire!

Pam Roberson from Virginia on December 30, 2008:

Very nice review on medical mystery novels! You're always so thorough in writing your hubs stone unturned. Very, very nice.

I'm more of a true crime kind of reader, but a few of these medical mysteries look very good to me, like Toxin and Unnatural Exposure. I'll be adding them to my book list. :)

Thank you!

Marlene F. (author) from Richmond, Virginia on December 26, 2008:

Thank you squizzlejizz!

squizzlejizz on December 26, 2008:

i am liking these article.

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