Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Forgotten Books: A Case of Need by Michael Crichton

Forgotten Books: A Case of Need by Michael Crichton


A Case of Need was published under the name Jeffery Hudson and won the Edgar in its year, 1968. My assumption, and I may well be wrong here, is that Crichton wanted to use a new pen-name. His previous ones had appeared on adventure paperback originals and men's adventure magazines. Need was certainly a more complex and ambitious book.

The first thing to remember here is that Crichton was a doctor. While this whodunit revolves around the apparent framing of a doctor for performing illegal abortions in the Boston hospital where the narrator works (abortions as controversial then as now), what drives the novel is Crichton's guided tour through the lives and egos of doctors of all ages. Two or three of them presented here could well be the surgeon (true facts) who left his patient unfinished on the table while he "ran" to the bank to do some business. Ah, yes, that old Hippocratic oath really gets in the way sometimes, doesn't it?

All mysteries should be this suspenseful. Crichton was particularly good at dialogue and knows how to move a story with it. His people are real and his take on them judicious. If he doesn't like someone, he justifies his take by laying out an interesting (and sometimes snarky) backstory. Yes, dreaded word--backstory!

Some of the technology is dated here. A few scenes would today include the MRI if nothing else. But since the narrator is a pathologist and takes us through many moments of his day, the outmoded technology doesn't matter much. What does matter is the good docs vs. the bad docs and the resolution of a fascinating fair clue mystery. Crichton was a masterful storyteller and this novel certainly deserved its Edgar.

4 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I read this one when it came out. Got it from the Detective Book Club. I remember enjoying it a lot.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

It was made into a decent movie starring James Coburn called The Carey Treatment

Tom said...

Excluding the recent PIRATE LATITUDES and PREY I've read everything published by Crichton and enjoyed them all.

I particularly enjoyed his early adventure novels written under the John Lange name; Easy Go, The Venom Business, Grave Descend, etc.

The pacing was well handled and the tension maintained throughout each.

I did find it disturbing that Chrichton, in order to help pay his way through medical school at Harvard, decided to sit down and start turning out these adventure novels, most written over a 2 or three weeks span.

As if it were that easy for everyone!

Parts of his autobiographical book, TRAVELS leave one to wonder when he gets into metaphysics and chapters on mental spoon bending.


Tom Roberts

George said...

I read this book when it was first published. You just knew the author was talented.