Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Dr. Knox"

Peter Spiegelman is the Shamus Award-winning author of five novels, including Dr. Knox, Thick As Thieves, and three books—Black Maps, Death’s Little Helpers, and Red Cat—that feature private investigator and Wall Street refugee John March.

Spiegelman applied the Page 69 Test to Dr. Knox and reported the following:
Dr. Adam Knox, the protagonist of my latest novel, Dr. Knox, runs a storefront clinic near Los Angeles’ Skid Row, where he cares for some of the city’s most unfortunate: “the luckless, the mad, the addicted, damaged, damned, and forgotten.” They pay what they can—often nothing—and to subsidize his operation, Dr. Knox runs another practice, one that is strictly off-the-books. With the help of his friend, former Special Forces operator Ben Sutter, Dr. Knox offers emergency medical care on a cash-only, no-records-kept, no-names-exchanged basis to patients either too famous or too criminal to call 911.

Like many people who come to L.A. in search of redemption, Knox comes with baggage. In his case that includes the disappointment of his patrician medical family, a failed marriage (to “Margot— blue-eyed, flaxen-haired avatar of Fairfield County privilege and entitlement…”), and service with an NGO that ended in disaster and disgrace. Page 69 is part of a longer section that finds Knox alone in his apartment above the clinic, drinking beer, smoking a joint, and thinking about his messy past—on this page, about the dissolution of his marriage.
We lived in Stratford, and I’d lost count of how many precious off-duty evenings I’d wasted watching boats on the Housatonic while her colleagues droned on about clients, bankers, real estate, golf handicaps, flying private, carried interest, private schools, and Republican fund-raisers. When I wasn’t bored, I pitied them. How they deluded themselves that all that crap meant something, that it was anything but comforting fiction, protective distraction from the realities of life: the nasty, brutish, and short parts, the horribly random parts, the parts where we’re powerless to protect our loved ones from anything. I mostly thought they were fools and cowards. In darker moments, I envied them.

I took another hit, then washed the rawness from my throat with beer. Margot was spoiled and her values were toxic, but she was never stupid. She saw the arc of things before I did— from the time I took my first gig with Doctors Transglobal. I was three years out of my residency when I began, and my initial assignments were just a week or two long. I was packing to leave on the second one, to Brazil, and she watched from the doorway.

“I’ve never seen your ER empty,” she said. “It’s SRO whenever I’ve visited. So I guess this isn’t about demand for health care suddenly collapsing in New Haven.”

She was cross-legged on the bed while I packed for my next assignment, a project in Guatemala. “Always somebody to help, huh? And always somewhere else. I thought a couple of trips would get those fantasies about saving the world out of your system. But they’re in there deep, aren’t they? Down in the bone.”

Before my first trip to Africa, she’d said: “The more you go away, the less of you returns. One of these days, you won’t come back at all.”

She was right about that. The trip after that was an open-ended one, to the C.A.R. I was there three months when the divorce papers came and I signed them the same day.

A burning ash fell to the table and left another scorch mark.

Little remained of my marriage. Margot got the place in Stratford and most everything else.
Page 69 of Dr. Knox is of a piece with the novel as a whole, I think, tonally and in other respects. It presents elements of Knox’s back-story, and also important aspects of his personality: his isolation, his ruefulness, his alienation from—even disdain for—the workaday world, and his skepticism regarding happiness. And it hints at the extent—and limitations—of Dr. Knox’s insights about himself.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Spiegelman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Red Cat.

--Marshal Zeringue