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Bitter Paradise

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Member Reviews

Bitter Paradise is the 5th book in the medical thriller series by Ross Pennie. Released 26th May 2020 by ECW Press, it's 320 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a very well written ongoing series with a returning ensemble cast of characters. It has several loosely related intertwined plot arcs which thread together ever more tightly as Dr. Zol tries to locate the source of a very worrying polio epidemic with his fiance' Natasha and help his foster son work through the trauma of previous injuries in Syria before moving to Canada as a refugee.

I found the books quite graphically violent (the first scene in the book includes the throat slashing murder of a young Syrian barber in front of witnesses). Much of the book is relentlessly grim. However, it's a quite remarkably well written, precisely plotted, controlled, and tension filled read with science based realistic medical puzzles to figure out.

I had not read the previous books in the series, so I struggled a bit with the characters' interrelationships and had some short term issues keeping the plot straight in my mind. It does work well enough as a standalone, but I believe having some background would provide for a smoother, more enjoyable read.

I would strongly recommend this book (and series) to fans of Jefferson Bass, Kathy Reichs, or similar. Readers should know that there is strong language and violence.

Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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An outbreak of polio has Dr Zol desperately searching for the source

Dr Zol’s (short for Szabo) son Max and his friend Travis are having their haircut by Hosam, a refugee from Syria where he had practised as a trauma surgeon when a man rushes into the shop and stabs a fellow barber. The boys are traumatised but not as much as Hosam. He immediately realises that a gang run by “the Caliph” is involved. He finds himself pulled into the group as his wife and son are threatened. The murder was to show that no one can escape from the grasp of “The Caliph”.

Dr Zoltan Szabo and his medical assistant (soon to be his wife) Tasha Sharma are desperately trying to discover why people mainly from a particular neighbourhood are being diagnosed not only with polio but also with the zika virus. The race is on to find out where the source of both these killer diseases – that seem to have combined into one very deadly unit have originated.

The pros of the book: I found the idea of polio and zika appearing together in people living in Canada fascinating. The research that Tasha, Zoltan and Jesse (their assistant) carry out to discover the source was very well researched. 

The cons: I honestly can’t say that any of the characters managed to get me even slightly interested in their lives. If it wasn’t for the storyline of polio/zika, I might not have finished the book. 

Hosam’s story was incredible, and I started skipping pages because it was so far-fetched. 

Please don’t take my word for it. I’m sure that I’m being a picky, critical reader. 


Elite Reviewing Group received a copy of the book to review.
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A Dr. Zol Szabo Medical Mystery #5

A Syrian trauma surgeon who emigrated to Canada to escape a torture-regime can only work as a barber and faces condemnation and contempt.  But when a junior barber is brutally murdered before witnesses, he enlists Dr. Zol Szabo, epidemician. Is this tyranny reaching Canada? Or something local? Dr. Szabo is also investigating a fatal pandemic.
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Loved this book.  Plenty of devious surprises and crackling suspense, along with interesting characters.  Just the sort of book to cause a lack of sleep, but I won't complain!  Highly recommended.

*This book was provided to me as an ARC at no charge in exchange for my honest review.  My thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this program.*
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I'm not a huge fan of medical thriller but I liked this one and found it gripping and entertaining.
I liked the well crafted plot, the fleshed out characters and the mystery that kept me guessing.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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I love a good medical thriller and this is one of the best I have read. Written by a doctor and not bogged down with medical jargon and to top it all this is the fifth in the series. A vaccine resistant strain of polio has struck the city and there has also been a murder. Can he solve what is causing this epidemic even if his career is at stake??? Can easily be read as a stand alone and I literally devoured this book in one sitting. This read had everything I want when I read a medical thriller and so much more. This book is that good I have already purchased the others in this series. A well deserved five stars and so Highly Recommended. A very happy reader. 
Thanks to FEW Press and Netgalley for the ARC.
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I recieved this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

I did not realize when getting this book that its #5 in the series. It may make more sense reading after the first 4 but it reads fine as a stand alone novel. I also did not realize the author was an actual Doctor! It's rare that a jungle surgeon, intensive-care paediatrician, and infectious-diseases specialist becomes a well known author!

Bitter Paradise is a medical thriller featuring infectious disease investigators Dr. Zol Szabo and his fiancée Natasha Sharma witnessing an outbreak of a new strain of vaccine resistant polio in Hamilton, Ontario. Tests show that the disease originated from two separate infections, and it's crucial that the source of both diseases be discovered before spreading to more people.
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Written for the layman but with enough medical detail and involvement to be realistic, Bitter Paradise is a fast moving thriller than manages to combine the underworld and the far higher echelons of the investigation into an epidemic of a strangely vaccine resistant form of polio. In my experience it's relatively rare to find an accomplished medical practitioner who can write fiction in such a way that it captures the imagination. The tone is usually too blunt, the style too pedagogical, the writing often dry and academic. Ross Pennie doesn't fall into any of these traps and writes an intriguing medical thriller which is rich and complex. Whilst this is in actual fact the fifth in a series of medical mystery thrillers, it can be read quite easily as a stand alone - which is a good thing as I hadn't come across the author before and so was coming in completely blind.

I admit, I found the sections about the medicine side of things far more interesting than the criminal underworld and I found some of the mob style scenes rather jarring with the rest of the book. My personal opinion would be that they weren't really needed in honesty; the medical mystery and red herrings made for a fascinating tale in and of themselves, making the mobster type action unnecessary and forced; almost as though Pennie felt the need to hammer in some action in case the medical aspects weren't enough for his reader. The fact is that they are however and I think the novel would easily have reached five stars if he had kept the focus firmly on the investigation and issues thrown up throughout. The night pick ups, thefts and other criminal activities simply don't add anything to the novel and the conclusion to this sub-story fails to link effectively to the main drama of the epidemic.

Where Pennie excels is in his depictions of the epidemic and the impact on the individuals, the families and the community. He captures the tension and the fear of this unknown and potentially fatal disease well and the desperate need for action in both the community and the medical profession. With the coronavirus ever in the news at the moment, this was a really interesting look at the different mechanisms in which a virus can spread, contaminate and threaten as well as how infectious disease specialists try to identify and limit the spread of them. It's a different take on the thriller genre and not one I have come across before. I appreciated the character perspectives as well; everyone here is very human and nothing is black and white. The background of some of the characters is fairly horrific, and you can easily see how that might tinge their world view and influence their actions.

I certainly enjoyed this and hammered through it in a night, not going to bed until I'd finished the last page. My only issue is that I only really connected with one out of the two plot threads, and whilst it was thankfully the larger strand, I found myself skipping ahead when the focus shifted away from the medical drama. I can't help but feel that this is almost two completely seperate plots jammed together and it doesn't quite scan, let alone come together at the end. The whole thing would be far more cohesive if the focus was on one or the other and if I'd honest, I wouldn't have been vaguely interested in reading this as a mobster book. The author clearly has a vast amount of medical knowledge and this is really what he brings to the table here; without the underworld aspect, far more attention could be given to some of the really unique aspects like the spread of viral infections through weird and wonderful critters or the political aspects which are often skimmed over.

So, a sound novel and one which I read in a single sitting, but it isn't as good as it could be. In trying to be two completely different things it fractures somewhat and the wealth of knowledge and experience that the author has in the medical field is far more lacking when referencing the criminal underworld.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for my review copy of this novel.
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This is my first medical thriller, and wow, talk about making me anxious. A deadly outbreak, and a murder, all in one nicely laid out novel, what a perfect compilation. 

I did feel it was above my head, as the lingo lost me at times. However, this did push me to look up his other books. The character building was wonderful, and I felt truly on the edge of my seat. Hasam is my favorite literary Doctor, thus far. 

I would absolute.y recommend this to others looking for a good Michael Crichton esq. thriller. 

3.5 stars

* Thank you netgalley for providing me a copy for my humble and honest review.
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I recently read The Unforgiving Tides which is a memoir by a Canadian doctor, now retired. It was a remarkable account of his experiences and medical practice while working as a volunteer doctor and surgeon in a remote part of Papua New Guinea. At the time he was aged 25 and straight out of medical school. 

While reading this I learned that he is now the author of 5 medical mysteries which I was anxious to read.  These feature fictional medical investigator and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Zol Szabo.  

Bitter Paradise is a medical thriller featuring infectious disease investigators Dr. Zol Szabo and his fiancée Natasha Sharma witnessing an outbreak of a new strain of vaccine-resistant polio in Hamilton, Ontario. Tests show that the disease originated from two separate infections, and it is crucial that the source of both diseases be discovered before spreading to more people. Dr. Pennie brings his medical background as a nationally renowned infectious disease specialist and skills as a writer to this series of medical puzzles. 

The book features a multi-cultural cast. Some are longtime Canadian citizens and others are recent immigrants and refugees. Since many of the disease-stricken patients and their families speak little or no English, it is difficult to learn their case histories, including where and when they may have been exposed to the illness. 
Dr. Zol has a teenaged son and also a boy living with him who has been mute ever since his family was killed in Syria. The boys spend most of their time playing video games online. They are wrought by the fear that they may have exposed to polio. They stumble on some essential clues which may help to solve the puzzle. 

Dr. Hosam was a trauma surgeon in Syria. He fled his home and prestigious practice when his home was reduced to rubble by bombs that killed his young daughter. He eventually became a refugee in Canada along with his wife and teenaged son. Lacking medical credentials to practice in Canada, he lives humbly and works in a barbershop. He feels safe until two men rush into the barbershop, slashing a fellow Syrian barber to death. This killing was reported to be on the orders of a notorious Syrian warlord, The Caliph, now living in Canada. No one has ever seen him, with good reason. Dr. Hosam, who no longer has his once-prominent surgical career, is getting threats on his life and that of his family. He is ordered by the Caliph’s gang to carry out illegal tasks. In the meantime, his son is worried about getting polio. He was in contact with a student at school who has succumbed to the disease. 

This was a gripping and suspenseful plot, even if some of the medical insights were obscure. My greatest difficulty was initially confusing Dr. Hosam with Dr. Hamish, a friend of Dr.Zol Szabo, and fellow disease investigator. I thought it was an informative and interesting introduction to how new potential plagues might threaten our country, and how their origins would be tracked down, and strategies developed to keep us safe. 

I wish to thank NetGalley and ECW Press for this compelling ARC in return for an honest review.  I have already downloaded a previous book in the 5 book series, and hope to eventually read others.
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