Tampered: A Dr. Zol Szabo Medical Mystery

Summer 2011 CSANews Issue 79  |  Posted date : Jul 08, 2011.Back to list

It's murder in an upscale retirement mansion. In "Tampered," author Dr. Ross Pennie weaves a tale of page-turning suspense with the real science knowledge he's gained as a practising physician, a global specialist in infectious diseases and professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

The elegant Camelot Lodge, at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment (known to Hamiltonians as "The Mountain") is a residence for healthy seniors blessed with generous pensions and high-ranking political connections. Dr. Zol Szabo and his public health team are in the process of trying to trace the source of a series of fatal food poisonings at the lodge. Special pressure is being applied on Szabo's superiors in Toronto, because one of the victims happens to be the prime minister's favourite aunt.

Aiding and abetting in the investigation is a quartet of feisty, subversive octogenarians who delight in bending rules and speaking their minds. Think Miss Marple or Betty White. There's Earl, the retired history professor, Art, the piano-playing engineer, Phyllis, who insults people in Latin and my favourite, Betty, who claims that she doesn't have time to die until she finishes the memoirs of her 30 years as personal assistant to a prime minister and a string of cabinet ministers. This project may be about the past, but it still makes current Ottawa leaders uneasy.

In this medical mystery, we learn a lot about scary germs and scarier public 
health policies. Did you know that if you are older than 80 and a resident of a nursing home, you won't be allowed to transfer to an acute-care hospital during a diarrhea outbreak? This is a new law which nurses and doctors have taken to calling the "Deep Six" rule. Another quirky plot twist reveals the proliferation of fake pills manufactured by criminal gangs. There's a statistic from the World Health Organization stating that the counterfeit drug trade amounts to $75 billion a year and is growing at twice the rate of legitimate drug sales.

"Tampered" is certainly not exclusively about medical matters. It's fun to find local references - i.e. Zol "reeking like the porta-potties at Oktoberfest." Foodies will enjoy the tips on making the perfect souffle with Dr. Zol, an ex-professional chef. The city of Hamilton becomes quite exotic as we discover juicy nuggets about mob culture, immigrant political machinations, the gay bar scene, as well as the military traditions of the Hamilton-based Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

In "Tampered," Pennie develops a plot with delicious, unpredictable twists, ending in a riveting finale. He has a winning cast of regulars: Dr. Zol Szabo, his endearing young son Max, colleagues Dr. Hamish Wakefield, epidemiologist Natasha Sharma, and his girlfriend, the gutsy blonde detective Colleen.
"Tampered" is the second of a trilogy of Dr. Zol Szabo mysteries, following the award-winning "Tainted." I'm looking forward to number three.
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Tampered: A Dr. Zol Szabo Medical Mystery
By Ross Pennie
(ECW Press, $24.95, 295 pages)