Books: The Russian Donation

I enjoyed The Russian Donation largely because it was different from a lot of mystery novels I have read. To begin with, it is written by a German author for a German audience, and of course set in Germany (in the 1990’s). So it depicts life in Germany matter-of-factly, not like a book written for Americans and set in a foreign country to try to make it more interesting.

It could be termed a medical mystery, as the main character is a doctor, attending physician at a teaching hospital, and most of the characters and action are related in some way to the hospital. But the issues turn out to have a lot more to do with the business side of the hospital than the medical side.

It should be no surprise to most people, considering rising healthcare costs and the various efforts made to contain them, that healthcare is a business and decisions are made as much by business administrators as by doctors. But it’s interesting to see a physician’s point of view as he goes about his daily (and sometimes nightly) duties. (Author Christoph Spielberg is himself a practicing physician, so he knows what he’s writing about.)

Early in the novel, narrator Dr. Hoffmann, having just filled out a death certificate (for the patient whose death is surrounded by the mystery Dr. Hoffmann goes about trying to unravel), comments that “I had no idea that at that moment I was almost signing my own death certificate.” I kept waiting for someone to try to murder him. But for a book described by some reviews as a thriller, The Russian Donation struck me as surprisingly undramatic. I don’t say this as a criticism – in some ways it is a welcome change from thrillers where the tension is constantly at a fever pitch.

The cover says this is “Dr. Hoffmann’s first case.” That was one reason I picked it out (among new books at our library). It’s always nice to start a series at the beginning. I don’t know how soon the English translation of another of Spielberg’s Dr. Hoffmann books will appear, but I’ll keep out an eye for it.

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