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Neurosurgeon's Novel
Cuts Into Reader's Mind

by Jim Pratt
Oxford Town Paper

November 23 - 29, 2000

The cover of the murder thriller: Hermes' Viper Joseph T. McFadden can get into your brain both physically and mentally. He is a neurosurgeon with 42 years experience operating on many brains removing tumors and squelching the bursting of an aneurysm with a clamp he invented.

Now a novel he has written cuts into the mind through the reader's eyes and exposes the frailty of life and death in a 3000-bed charity hospital. McFadden's book is "Hermes' Viper" an intriguing murder mystery.

This new author is Oxford born and joins the ranks of Oxford writers. He does with medicine and his knowledge of neurosurgery what Grisham does with law. He weaves a captivating tale of life and death in the hospital, including its successes, failing and flaws.

A woman stalker who the reader meets early, preys on the hopeless and terminally ill. She reveals her plans and logs the results in a journal. Yet not even she knows who she is and the reader doesn't find out until page 422.

Dr. Stuart Holden is the surgeon, born in Alabama and practicing his specialty in the South Chicago Hospital. He has been in residence for 16 years when the story begins. He is a single father raising three children, since his wife died of a mysterious disease four years ago. It is revealed that the woman stalker infected the woman while she slept at home.

The woman, a hospital employee, is in love with him and extends her mercy deaths to his family so that she can possess him. Her illness is called "Old Maids' Disease," medically termed erotomania. To complicate matters she has a multiple personality disorder and disguises herself into at least 10 different people.

Child abuse and tragic burns brought on her condition from a fire that scarred her body and killed her mother. She has lost her identity even to herself.

In these disguises and knowledge and employment at the hospital she has killed hundreds of people and not been detected. She does it for Stuart, her beloved brain surgeon, by getting those that are all but dead, or wished they were dead, out of the way so the beds can be filled with patients that need his service.

The abnormal number of deaths was detected in a comparison with other charity hospitals. The Chicago hospital had beds available where others were filled and had waiting lists. The death rate at the hospital was consistently two percent higher than the other charity hospitals. The majority of the deaths were Holden's patients.

One of her selves kills a competitor who was a threat to Holden and she made it look like an accident. She even threatens and nearly kills his children's nanny and a woman with whom he has fallen in love.

Using virtual reality software a computer points to the next victim and Holden saves the nannies life and briefly captures the murderer but doesn't recognize her and she escapes.

From there to the end is a cat and mouse game that would make any moviegoer squirm in his or her seat if it were made into a film. It is a riveting read and you can't put it down.

McFadden taps all of his experience into this novel: from his childhood on a farm in Lafayette County to his vast hospital experience. His mother still lives in Oxford. He graduated from University High School and the University of Mississippi and his medical degree was from the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Except for a brief stint in the U. S. Navy, he practiced mostly in Norfolk and is Emeritus Professor of Neurosurgery at Easter Virginia School of Medicine.

Upon retirement, McFadden had accumulated on year of vacation time. "A full year at full pay," he smiled. He learned to ski and ice skate. He has always been writer, but it has been for medical journals. "Hermes' Viper" is the first of three books ready for publication; one is a book of short stories.

"Hermes' Viper" gives the reader an insight into the miracles of today's medicine and its shortcomings. It exposes some of the abuses of the hospital system and yet explains operating procedures in an exciting and dramatic way. You come away exposed to McFadden's philosophy that makes the reader question such things as beliefs.

The man works on your brain in more ways than on and as he says, "your universe is between your ears."

"Hermes' Viper" is the first of three books to be published by McFadden.

I can't wait for the next.


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