Isolation Ward

by Joshua Spanogle

Joshua Spanogle is currently a student at Stanford Medical School,
but he has already acquired quite a bit of backstory. A Yale
graduate, Spanogle has also served as a researcher at the
University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. As if medical
school wasn't time-consuming enough, Spanogle has written a medical
thriller, ISOLATION WARD, that infuses elements of medical acumen
and detective work to result in one of the more memorable books of
recent note in any genre.

Spanogle's creation is Dr. Nathaniel McCormick, an officer of the
Epidemic Intelligence Service, which in turn is a branch of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The title "officer"
connotes hierarchy and bureaucracy, and McCormick does not play
well with others. Additionally, his personality is closer to that
of Gregory House than Marcus Welby. These traits do not mesh well
with his supervisors in the CDC, the hospitals he visits, law
enforcement…well, you get the idea. This guy has an authority
problem. And what makes it additionally tough for his superiors is
that McCormick, more often than not, is right.

When a number of people begin showing up at a Baltimore Hospital
emergency room with extremely nasty symptoms, McCormick --- loose
cannon that he is --- goes rolling across the deck and over a
number of toes. It doesn't take long to figure out that the
patients are all residents of group homes. McCormick himself notes
that he doesn't like being stuck in examining rooms --- an
interesting attitude for a physician --- and is soon out in the
streets and neighborhoods of Baltimore, investigating the patients,
their employers and their friends, and kicking over rocks in the
best manner of Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Raymond Chandler's

When an individual with a link to all the patients is found
brutally murdered, McCormick's unauthorized investigation takes him
to Northern California, where he not only uncovers the bizarre and
frightening etiology of the mystery disease, but is also forced to
confront and resolve issues from his own past that have a bearing
on his present.

Spanogle has created a unique character here; McCormick is slightly
irritating yet ultimately likable, and there is no question that he
is an irresistible force attracted toward the truth. Considering
that medical research and detective work are quite similar, it is
somewhat surprising that characters such as McCormick are not more
common in fiction. Spanogle, with McCormick and ISOLATION WARD, has
raised the bar for future creators his first time out.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Isolation Ward
by Joshua Spanogle

  • Publication Date: December 26, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0440242282
  • ISBN-13: 9780440242284