Do No Harm
By Christina McDonald. (Gallery Books, 347 pages, $16.99.)
Emma has a wonderful marriage. She's a doctor, burdened with medical school bills but working at a good clinic, and married to an up-and-coming police detective, Nate, who is the lead cop in the town's war on opioids. The two revolve around their young son, Josh.
One day Josh develops bruises that he attributes to a schoolyard squabble. As his health deteriorates, Josh is diagnosed with leukemia, deadly cells raging through his body. The best hope for treatment is almost $100,000, and the family's insurance won't pay.
What follows is a controversial journey into opioids, addiction and the madness that it can lead to. Emma's estranged brother, Ben, is an addict who's been trapped in this world since his teens. Unthinkable as it is, Emma turns to Ben to help her raise money to save Josh. She plunges herself into the dope-dealing world by stealing prescription pads from other doctors and having Ben and a former boyfriend of hers, Gabe, concoct and sell the oxycodone pills to people in pain.
Emma takes comfort in believing the ends justify the means, even as her husband's investigation starts to come too close to her. In the end, she pays a horrifying price to keep Josh alive.
While very well told, this was a hard story to read and enjoy. Acclaimed author Christina McDonald tells us in after-notes that she watched her own brother become captive to opioids, and she attempts to explore the tragedy both from the viewpoint of pain patients who are cut off from their meds and from the adoring parents and partners who will go to any lengths to help their loved ones. The twisty ending leaves you disappointed and sad, but I'm sure it's closer to real life than we'd like to believe.