Robin Cook is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. He has written 37 international bestsellers. Doctor and author Robin Cook is widely credited with introducing the word “medical” to the mystery-thriller genre, and forty-three years after publication of his breakthrough novel, Coma, he continues to dominate the category he created with titles such as Outbreak, Contagion, and Pandemic.
Q. Your latest medical thriller, Viral, is set against the backdrop of the pandemic and follows a family’s exposure to a rare yet deadly new virus. What kinds of questions does it ask and answer about a pandemic that has reshaped our world?
Robin: Viral shows how much the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world, turning many peoples’ lives upside down. It also demonstrates the problems associated with our healthcare system that has been taken over by private equity because of the profits that can be made. The novel also asks the question of how much more is climate change going to influence the emergence of new healthcare challenges.
Q. Besides being a celebrated author of medical thrillers, you’re also a practicing physician yourself. How have the pandemic and other healthcare-related events affected how you write?
Robin: The pandemic has changed life in general for so many people, often upending whatever has come before. As a writer, it’s hard to conceive of a storyline without referring to the pandemic and its effects on society.
Q. Perhaps lesser known than many of your other major accomplishments is that you served as a doctor on a submarine, early in your career. Have you ever considered writing military fiction? What’s the closest you’ve gotten?
Robin: I actually wrote about a quarter of a novel about a submarine patrol in the area of the Azores that went haywire and ended up in a cat and mouse game with a Russian submarine, which was going to be my second novel after I published The Year of the Intern. But then, while I was in the middle of writing the book, Tom Clancy came out with his Hunt for Red October, and I thought that people would think I was trying to copy him. Instead of continuing my submarine story, I wrote COMA instead.
Q. Many of your stories are set in hospitals. How have hospitals changed in the last decade? How do you see them changing, as settings for fiction and in real life?
Robin: Too many hospitals have been taken over by private equity, which sees healthcare as an unlimited opportunity for huge profits. That is what Viral is ultimately about. Patients and their outcome are not an issue in this profit seeking environment. Instead, hospitals, health insurance companies, and pharmaceutical houses see healthcare as a source of unlimited profit, and this unfortunate situation is going to be with us for a long time since they can devote enormous sums to lobbying our congressional representatives and the Supreme Court has essentially okayed it by associating lobbying and political donations as an issue of free speech.
Q. What are you working on now?
Robin: Another novel about how hospitals are not protecting their patients as much as they should. Hospitals are dangerous places for patients on multiple levels and oversight varies considerably from institution to institution.
Robin Cook's Latest
Brian Murphy and his family are enjoying a relaxing summer excursion in Cape Cod when his wife, Emma, comes down with mild flu-like symptoms. But their leisurely return home to New York City quickly turns into a race to the ER as she begins seizing and falls into a coma. At the hospital, she is diagnosed with Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a rare and highly lethal mosquito-borne viral disease caught during one of their evening cookouts. Worse still, Brian and Emma’s young daughter exhibits alarming signs of the same illness.
An already harrowing hospital stay turns even more fraught when Brian receives a staggering hospital bill full of outrageous charges and murky language. To make matters worse, his insurance company won’t cover the cost, citing dubious clauses in Brian’s policy. Forced to choose between the ongoing care of his wife and daughter and bills he can never pay, and furious at both an indifferent healthcare system and the lack of public awareness about a virus that poses a growing threat, Brian vows to seek justice. But to get to the bottom of the predatory practices targeting his family and countless others, he must uncover the dark side of a historically ruthless industry–and bring down the callous executives preying on the sick and defenseless before the virus can claim even more people.