Valerie Laws is a crime writer and experimental artist who famously spray painted poetry onto live sheep. She has degrees in Maths/Theoretical Physics and in English. Her new novel is called The Operator. Valerie met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about mainstream medicine and criminality.
‘Now, this won’t hurt…’ We know what that means! But what if a doctor liked to cause pain? This is the second Erica Bruce and Will Bennett crime thriller. A sadistic orthopaedic surgeon is found dead, surgical spikes hammered into his head and hands. Erica wades in to protect his suspected soon-to-be-ex-wife, but soon it appears someone’s giving doctors a taste of their own medicine – murdering surgeons to mimic the operations they perform – a killer the press call ‘The Operator’.
THE OPERATOR reunites Erica Bruce, small but fierce alternative health therapist and journalist, with tall, dark athletic Detective Inspector Will Bennett. They’ve still got chemistry but are too often at loggerheads to get together properly though Erica’s interested elsewhere too! The setting is the north east coast of England: historic castles and rural beauty mixing with seedy seafront winebars, from the lighthouse at Wydsand, where Erica lives, to the mouth of the River Tyne itself, venue of a dramatic set piece where the mighty, hostile North Sea tests Erica to the limit. It’s darker than the first book, THE ROTTING SPOT, and more erotic too, and has plenty of witty Geordie banter.
What are the limitations of mainstream medicine in your opinion?
Mainstream medicine has made great strides but is hampered by several issues. One, lack of empathy in some medical staff, not considering the patient as a person, especially when they are undergoing a traumatic life-changing, or life-ending, event or great suffering. Surgeons in particular can come across this way, I’ve experienced it myself when disabled by a car crash and I’ve heard similar stories from many people over the years. Medicine’s not just about putting right mechanical faults. And it’s good medicine to remember that the body must heal itself, and to do that efficiently, the person needs to feel respected and valued and cared for. Luckily, times are changing, and medical students are being encouraged to retain empathy rather than having it bullied out of them as used to happen back in the day. In THE OPERATOR I look at several styles of surgeon, the arrogant god-complex type and the empathetic, caring sort.
The other main issue is money, and profit for drug companies – GPs and prescribing staff can seem to be using drug companies’ catalogues, looking up symptoms, there you go… many older remedies have been scorned out of use after years of working well, as they don’t bring in big profits, perhaps more doctors could question this. Newer remedies which cost more are brought in – then patients are blamed when the NHS struggles to pay for them. Research money seems to be always spent on seeking a wonder drug or immunisation, which will bring in big money for pharmaceutical companies, rather than some possibly quite simple and cheap preventative measure. Erica Bruce uses homeopathy, which is being attacked and discredited though it was once conventional medicine in the US – one of its strengths is the concern given to the patient in all their aspects.
How effective do you think the law is in dealing with criminality in the medical profession?
After the Harold Shipman case, probably pretty good on the whole! He got away with wholesale killing for a long time – the respect for the medical profession, the serial nature of doctor/patient interaction, so each patient with suspicions thinks they’re the only one – and there’s probably, as in all hierarchies or fairly closed worlds, a tendency to close ranks against accusation. THE OPERATOR’s sadistic surgeon relies on this ethos to get his kicks with impunity. Of course Doctors, Consultants, Nurses etc must be under stress and fearful of making a mistake which would have dreadful consequences, and they are only human. There have been heartbreaking cases recently emerging of hospital trusts creating an atmosphere where patients are neglected, not only emotionally but physically, starved of water for example – the media covered a case where one man had to ring 999 in desperation, the hospital sent the police away, and he died. Many people died in those kind of hospitals needlessly and/or in misery and pain and humiliation. No criminal charges ever seem to emerge from these kind of cases. Arguably, they should. And in my view it’s criminal what this government is doing to our precious NHS. These failing hospitals stories get a lot of media coverage since the Con-Dems took over – one can only hope that’s not to destroy public confidence in the NHS being workable, so we’ll protest less when it’s hived off into profitable private companies. I’m sure such a thought would never enter their heads.
What are you working on now?
I’m busy marketing the ebook of THE OPERATOR, and as the paperback’s coming out next February, I’ll be organising gigs and events all over the place – if anyone’s got an event or festival going on, let me know! I’m working on plotting the third Bruce and Bennett crime novel, lots of ideas for that. I’ve also got my next poetry collection (my 13th book) coming out next year so I’m working on that, with a separate lot of gigs and performances to be arranged.
Thank you Valerie for giving a perceptive and informative interview.