Delayed Diagnosis by Gwen Hunter
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-803-3
Delayed Diagnosis offers readers the first glimpse of Dr. Rhea Lynch, who will be featured, according to the author, in a series of romantic suspense novels. Set in a small town in a rural county of South Carolina, author Gwen Hunter captures its essence while advancing an inventive and imaginative well-orchestrated plot.

Growing up in a dysfunctional home, with a mother who was not only an alcoholic but a manic depressive, Rhea was essentially rearing herself when she met Marisa, who would become her best friend through their school years. It was Marisaís family who showed Rhea a true family life.

As the novel begins, Rhea has made the decision not to return to Charleston to a lucrative medical practice with her significant other, John. She will remain an emergency room physician in the small hospital in Dawson County where Marisa and her new husband Steven live. Steven is a physician and works at the same hospital.

Rhea returns from a two-week vacation to find Marisa unexpectedly unable to communicate and near death. The diagnosis is a severe stroke. Steven has checked Marisa out of the hospital and is providing home care. Slipping in to see her, Rhea is stunned by her condition and finds enough inconsistencies in her appearance to doubt the diagnosis.

Determined to help her friend, Rhea starts to examine the charts and data at the hospital. The author, Gwen Hunter, does a magnificent job detailing medical practices from the perspective of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and clericals. Adroitly she chronicles emergency room activity, using the events to advance her plot and add depth to her characters.

One emergency room admission turns up another patient with Marisaís symptoms. With a clandestine record search Rhea is able to identify a common thread between the two cases. While she conducts her search, Steven is falling apart emotionally, exhibiting fits of rage and abusive physical behavior. Meanwhile Stevenís stepson is accused of rape and this, coupled with the entry of a competing health service provider in the area, combine to provide the ingredients for an exciting story.

Hunter does everything right in this novel. Her pacing is great, scenes shift seamlessly, dialogue is crisp, often humorous and always to the point. Her character definition is complex and her plot development is logical.

While the resolution of Delayed Diagnosis is a bit too quick and contrived, it does not interfere with the pleasure of the read.

Readers should know that a large number of technical and medical terms are used in Delayed Diagnosis. If your eyes glaze over with simple emergency room terms, you will not enjoy this book as much as those who eagerly embrace medical vignettes.

--Thea Davis

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