Books & Literature

Book Review: Viral, by Robin Cook

THRILLER: A family’s exposure to a rare yet deadly virus puts them at the centre of a terrifying new danger to mankind – and pulls back the curtain on a health care system powered by greed and corruption.

An awareness-raising novel with teachings that most of us will ignore … until it happens to us.
3.5

Dr Robin Cook’s latest medical thriller Viral explores the inner workings of the healthcare system, and how it can impact upon a patient’s hospital journey within the United States. It may seem improbable to us here in Australia, however with the rising profitability of the pharmaceutical industry, the increasing move to privatise healthcare, and the rise of private equity ownership within the healthcare sector of Australia, Cook’s novel raises many important issues.

Some are political and some are systemic. Others relate to the pressures placed upon clinical management by the profit-driven motives of owners. The goal of Cook’s novel is to demonstrate how these pressures are affecting health outcomes within America as Cook reiterates that complacency led to the behemoth it has become, whereby operational and strategic outcomes become the focus in healthcare.

Within the novel, protagonist Brian insists that his inability to pay the exorbitant healthcare costs of his wife’s hospital visit is affecting both her and their daughter’s treatment. Is he delusional? What happens when health insurances refuse to pay out anything at all? Is it ethical? Is it legal?

Viral, like all its predecessors, explores the political, ethical, and profitability components of medicine. The book is set in the present COVID-19 pandemic with climate change already impacting disease distribution. Brian Murphy, with his wife and daughter, are on holidays, when his wife Emma becomes infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis. When Brian discovers that his health insurers refuse to pay, he is faced with financial ruin. What does one do when fighting the system?

With simple text structure and much dialogue, Cook creates a plot that seeks to appeal to a wider audience to educate the wider community. His book is based on non-fiction works, whose likely followers would be limited only to those affected or those already curious.

The morality of all characters in this novel is consistently questioned, as we are richly entertained with concepts of what is right and what is wrong as we follow the emotional journey of protagonist Brian. The book is divided into three main parts, each with several chapters. It also includes a prologue and epilogue.

One of the most poignant parts of the structure of the book are the dates listed at the beginning of each chapter. Cook’s literary skill in including the dates as part of the structure creates a disturbing feeling in the reader, as we come to realise how much one’s life can completely change in just a day, week, or a month.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: August 2021
RRP: $32.99

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