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Do No Harm


Do No Harm

Bestselling author Christina McDonald is back with her third suspense novel, DO NO HARM, a tautly plotted, socially informed drama about how far one mother is willing to go to save her son.

Orphaned at a young age, Emma Sweeney is used to being independent and stable. For years her ambition has guided her, and now she is a respected doctor, loving wife to police detective Nate and proud mother of a bright kindergartener. But when Josh starts complaining of exhaustion and flu-like symptoms and comes home from school covered in strange bruises, Emma’s perfect life begins to fall apart. When he is rushed to the ER after a fall, Emma and Nate receive the most horrifying and life-changing news imaginable: their precocious, fun-loving son has cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, and unless they do something fast, the prognosis is not good.

"Instantly gripping and full of gasp-worthy twists, the book is clever, tense and utterly addictive. You won’t stop until you’ve turned the last page."

Although Emma knows a bit more about the disease than most parents in similar positions, no amount of education or preparedness can help her when she hears how much the best treatment, CAR T-cell therapy, will cost: a whopping $500,000, only a small portion of which is covered by insurance. In a series of phone calls, emails and research that will be all too familiar to most Americans, Emma is able to find a workaround. However, instead of a clean bill, she learns that the treatment will cost $96,000, and she and Nate will have to acquire the funds within one month, or their son’s life will likely end within the year. Emma is still young in her career and not making anywhere near that kind of money, and though Nate is a second-generation cop, he will need a major promotion to even think about a sum like that. Backed into a corner with few options, Emma can’t help but notice the unlocked, unattended extra prescription pads at her clinic, and she makes an instant decision.

For the past several months, Nate has seen his city ravaged by the opioid epidemic; he and his colleagues are called to overdoses practically every day. But when a police informant is murdered, and his toxicology report indicates the presence of fentanyl, the pressure is on for Nate and his department to figure out why overdoses are spiking and who is bringing fentanyl into their community. Feeling helpless at home, he sees the opportunity to solve the kind of case that will mean an instant promotion --- and enough money to protect his family from nearly anything. Little does he know that this epidemic has close ties to his own family.

With Emma reuniting with shady characters from her past to sell prescriptions for opioids and Nate homing in on the seedy underbelly of his town, their relationship takes on a visceral tension, fueled even further by the stress of their sick child. DO NO HARM takes on the air of a cat-and-mouse thriller, with each character trying to outwit the other and come out on top. Drawing upon the searingly timely topic of the opioid crisis and adding some much-needed context to the severity, classism and racism of the issue, McDonald pens a suspenseful thrill ride that is as socially aware as it is meticulously plotted.

What makes the book stand out is the inclusion of characters from all walks of life. As McDonald illustrates, the idea of the “junkie” is only a small portion of the drug crisis ravaging America, and although she makes no excuses for crime, she highlights the many reasons that people have turned to drugs to solve much larger problems. From patients trying to mitigate symptoms of painful diseases to doctors who are afraid of attracting the attention of the Drug Enforcement Administration and even more stereotypical addicts, she paints a picture of an America that is suffering, and reminds readers that there are many motivations behind those involved with opioids.

While the idea of a doctor wife and a police detective husband with an adorable yet horribly sick child might seem a bit too tidy, McDonald uses this highly specific situation to unpack a world of other, more common ones. At the same time, she uses Emma’s character to frame some poignant questions about motherhood, morality and the idea of ends that justify means.

DO NO HARM is an intensely raw and real thriller, and it is clear that McDonald has done incredible amounts of research into the opioid crisis, medicine and (groan) insurance. But do not let the social commentary fool you; this is not just a close examination of social issues. Instantly gripping and full of gasp-worthy twists, the book is clever, tense and utterly addictive. You won’t stop until you’ve turned the last page.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 26, 2021

Do No Harm
by Christina McDonald

  • Publication Date: February 16, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982142618
  • ISBN-13: 9781982142612