by CJ Lyons

(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Year published: 2008
Category: medical thriller; romantic suspense; series (#1)

Tech rating (out of 5):


On her first day at a gritty Pittsburgh hospital, ER physician Lydia Fiore shows her brilliance—and disdain for the rules—with a dramatic save of a patient with an unconventional diagnosis. But by the time the day is over, she’s presided over the death of the chief of surgery’s son. Only by solving the riddle of why he died can she regain her job and her self-respect. But the heat of summer is cooking up extremism and violence in the city…


Lifelines is a debut novel written by pediatric emergency medicine physician CJ Lyons that reads like a long version of the best ER episode ever.  In Lifelines, she introduces us to an ensemble cast of four women of the Angels of Mercy hospital emergency room: Lydia, the attending physician; Nora, the charge nurse; Gina, the resident; and Amanda, the medical student. All are strong, richly portrayed characters. This first book in Lyons’ Angels of Mercy series focuses on Dr. Lydia Fiore, with subsequent volumes clearly conceived as a series to explore each character in turn.

Lydia is a smart, high-achieving loner who has a hard time trusting others. Paramedic Trey Garrison cuts through her layers of toughness and wins her love. Lyons’ novel ignores the traditional medical thriller formulas used by authors like Robin Cook and Michael Palmer and carves its own unbeatable trajectory of romantic suspense in a hospital setting. I felt the book had a decidedly female tone, and I loved it. The author’s choices of details to emphasize reflect a female sensibility and romantic ideals: the power of subtle touches and glances, a pattern of strong women who have individual frailties and crave the love of a strong, sensitive man. And in notable contrast to many thrillers written by men, the reader is spared a description of every female character’s butt and bustline.

Don’t underestimate this novel, however. It’s first and foremost a THRILLER, not a romance. It’s a page-turner of the first magnitude. The central plot line is spiced with wonderful anecdotal scenes of crazy stuff that happens in big-city emergency rooms (like the jilted lover who swallows fireworks). Friendship, loyalty, integrity, bravery—all these traits are part of the action-packed and satisfying climax.

Highly recommended “beach” reading.

Plot themes in this book: right-wing Aryan militias; gay rights; homelessness; urban riots; bomb threats; emergency room drama

Pick up this book if: you love the TV show ER

CJ Lyons’ Angels of Mercy series:
Lifelines (2008); Warning Signs (2009); Urgent Care (2009); Critical Condition (2010)