The Strange Case of Dr. Couney
By Dawn Raffel. (Blue Rider Press 304 pages, $18 paperback.)

"All the world loves a baby" was the slogan of his life's work, but the legacy of Dr. Martin Couney was a bit more complicated. In her well-researched book, Dawn Raffel relates the stranger-than-fiction history of a champion of premature babies: an innovator and performer who charged admission to see the tiny humans that he carefully led through their first weeks and months of life. His babies were a draw at World's Fairs from the start of the 20th century through the 1930s, and Couney himself was a magnet for criticism and even derision.

Couney cared for patients born barely on the cusp of viability in an era when such "weaklings" would typically have been left to die. He cobbled together technology inspired by chicken incubators with a dedication to hand hygiene, breastmilk and hands-on cuddling. These concepts flew in the face of medical practice at the time but are now bedrocks in neonatal care.

While some saw his methods as sordid and many questioned his credentials, no one questioned Couney's love for and dedication to his tiny patients, whose families were never charged a penny for the care they received.

When Couney's final show ended in 1943, it's estimated that this quirky showman who never published an article had saved the lives of about 7,000 babies. Couney's means may have disquieted the experts — and his expensive tastes and appetites caused him financial and legal troubles throughout his life — but his ends speak for themselves.


Then She Vanished
By T. Jefferson Parker. (Putnam, 352 pages, $27.)

What do you call a beach read that arrives when beaches are closing up? A porch read? "Then She Vanished" is one, a dandy yarn whose pages turn at a Michael Connelly-esque clip.

Parker's private investigator, Roland Ford, is a veteran of the Iraq war who is haunted by the decisions he made there (much like Vietnam dogs the nightmares of Connelly's Harry Bosch). That helps explain why Ford comes to the aid of a fellow veteran, a corrupt California congressman who doesn't seem all that broken up about his wife's apparent kidnapping.

Parker goes a little heavy on the outsized sexual appeal of his hero but his fast-paced novel contains just enough real-world stuff — domestic terrorism, election chicanery — to make it as unsettling as it is gripping.