Public Anatomy

by A. Scott Pearson

(good; ~30th percentile for SciThri genre)

Year published: 2011
Category: mystery; medical thriller; series (#2)

Tech rating (out of 5):

SUMMARY (from author’s website):

While recovering from a career-threatening injury, surgeon Eli Branch is pulled into the turbulent world of Dr. Liza French, a colleague he hasn’t seen in ten years. Liza uses their past to lure Eli into a highly-publicized debacle in a Memphis hospital that has put her own career in jeopardy. But when the murder of medical personnel at Gates Memorial appears related to Liza’s surgical complication, Eli finds that more lives are at imminent risk. He discovers clues from the victims that match anatomical art found at the crime scenes, a connection that leads him to the manuscript of a sixteenth century anatomist whose methods of dissection are over four centuries old – but are being reenacted in the present. Aided by the expertise of forensic pathologist Dr. Meg Daily, Eli uncovers a pattern to the escalating deaths and the search begins for the killer whom the media and the city come to know as The Organist.


Public Anatomy is author A. Scott Pearson’s second medical thriller featuring Dr. Eli Branch, a surgeon at the beginning of his career—a career severely derailed by the events in Pearson’s first novel, Rupture. Like many medical thrillers set in hospitals, such as those written by Robin Cook, Public Anatomy has strong mystery elements. This is not an end-of-the-world disaster book; it’s about a tragic accident involving robotic surgery, and a series of murders involving medical workers. The murders share a grisly feature: in each case, the murderer meticulously dissects out a single bone or organ, puts it on display, and includes an artistic rendering of the body part.

Our hero, Dr. Eli Branch, is currently working in the backwaters of medicine as a temporary staff physician in the ER of a community hospital in Memphis, TN. (A hand injury from the previous book now prevents him from doing surgery.) He becomes involved in the investigation of two seemingly disparate events: the death of a patient during a hysterectomy using minimally-invasive robotic surgery, and the “anatomy” murders.

The reasons for Branch’s involvement are not particularly well-established; the reader will just have to go with it. Branch recognizes that the murderer is modeling his acts on a famed 16th-century human anatomy text by Vesalius, a paradigm-shifting renegade scientist who performed human dissections at a time when such things simply were not done. This is an interesting intellectual twist to the tale.

Overall, Public Anatomy is a nice medical mystery/thriller that fans of the genre will be able to read quickly and enjoy. It has excellent surgical detail (strong ER scene involving a gunshot wound), and great illustrations of the field of robotic surgery. Tons of local color will appeal to people who are familiar with the Memphis area. The story line is predictable with an attempt at a twist (which comes off as unbelievable based on what we’ve been told about the characters). The FBI element doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It never feels like the protagonist (or the requisite female pathologist semi-girlfriend) is in any real danger, and a suggestion of sexual perversion in the plot line feels out of place with the tone of the rest of the book.

Despite the gruesome-sounding set up of the murders, this book is not particularly violent or graphic for the genre (certainly much less than, say, Tess Gerritsen’s medical thrillers). In fact, I found the “grossest” scene to be one early in the book which was probably intended to be humorous. Let’s just say it involves maggots, and my stomach was really churning when I read it.

Key words: Memphis, robotic surgery, hysterectomy, minimally invasive surgery, Vesalius, dissection, navicular bone

Medical mystery/thrillers featuring Dr. Eli Branch:
Rupture (2009); Public Anatomy (2011)

FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me by the publisher for review.  As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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