Nikki's Reviews > A Case of Need

A Case of Need by Jeffery Hudson
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Mar 28, 08

bookshelves: edgar-best-novel-winners, mysteries, books-set-in-massachusetts
Read in April, 2008

1968. I was in college near Boston. One of my housemates, a girl I didn't know well, was pregnant. Her roommate learned that the ex-boyfriend and father, a pre-med student, was planning to perform an amateur abortion. This was 5 years before Roe v. Wade. My housemates, all urban people, were galvanized into action, calling friends and even their mothers to locate a safe abortionist. I really had nothing to contribute except hand-wringing. The girl eventually decided to have the baby, and I think it was given up for adoption as I seem to recall she was back in school during my senior year.
The following year, in summer, I found a room in an off-campus house. One of my flatmates had taken some time off from school the previous year. It turned out she had had a legal abortion at one of the best hospitals in Boston. You could get one if a panel of three doctors agreed that it was necessary for your health, and mental health counted. Unfortunately something had gone wrong, and she would now be unable to bear children. Since the abortion took place in a hospital, she didn't die.

For these reasons and a few other stories from women I've known, I was interested immediately in A CASE OF NEED when, looking it up in the library catalog, I saw the tracing "Abortion - Fiction." (I was going to read it anyway as part of my Edgar-winners project.) I brought the book home and started reading it right away. I'm going to give it a rating four stars, because the story certainly pulled me along. But for my tired old eyes, I would have finished it in one sitting.

Why not five stars -- which was evidently the consensus of the Edgar committee? One reason is that there were some definite plot holes. I can't really describe them for fear of spoilers, but since the story centers around doctors and others performing illegal abortions, I will point out that the three-doctor panel option existed at the time of the book, and is not mentioned. There are several more, which I'm sure any of you who read the book will spot.

Another reason is Hudson/Crichton's annoying practice of using medical jargon and abbreviations and then FOOTNOTING them! Yes, footnotes in a mystery thriller! I realize that this book preceded /Chicago Hope/ and /ER/, which made us all so conversant with hospital talk, but after all, it did follow /Dr. Kildare /and /Ben Casey/! I haven't read any of Crichton's other books, so I trust this was just a matter of youthful inexperience. I've read many books set in milieus unfamiliar to me, and nearly all the authors have been able to explain unfamiliar terms without resorting to footnotes. Talk about taking the reader out of the story!

The third reason I have for withholding the fifth star is the evident misogyny of the narrator/protagonist and, I fear, of the author himself. Maybe it's just me, but the way the protagonist interacts with his wife, the nurses, and the other women who come into the story suggested to me that he really didn't believe women were people. Perhaps I'm being unduly harsh and perhaps my view is skewed by having read that Crichton has been married 5 times. I will accept correction if someone believes differently. The character of the narrator is problematic in some other ways as well, again, I can't really explain that without spoilers.

To be fair, I'm still impressed that Crichton wrote a book this good while studying at Harvard Medical School. In spite of some very dated attitudes, it's still worth reading.
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