Book Review: One Foot in the Grave by Tim Sheard, Hard Ball Press

by Sarah Harper, January 10, 2020

Lenny Moss is Back!

Few books are written about workers and by workers. Timothy Sheard’s Lenny Moss mystery series is a welcome change. This series, written by a retired emergency room nurse based his detective, Lenny Moss, on a real life janitor and union steward in a Philadelphia hospital. These books contain all the elements of a good mystery: suspense, developed characters, believable plots. Each mystery takes place within a larger medical framework. Lenny realizes early on in the series that when major crimes arise, he has to notify the police. He and Detective Williams learn to trust and respect each other’s skills.

Lenny Moss is an older white man. Although cynical he goes to bat for all the workers, nurses, doctors and techs in the hospital even though they are not in his union. His union only covers janitors, housekeeping, laundry and cafeteria workers. He is well liked and respected by the other hospital workers. As a fighter, the administrators hate him. Solving crimes is a collective effort by a multiracial crew of workers. Though recognized as the leader, he knows he needs all of his friends to resolve the crime. His best friends in the hospital are Moose who works in dietary and his wife Birdie who works in the sewing room in the basement of the hospital. Both are black. Lenny’s wife, Patience, is an X-ray tech at the hospital. She is black and has two children from another marriage.

In One Foot in the Grave the crime centers on Roy Reading, an EMT. He was thrown out of medical school for how he treated a comatose female patient. The person responsible for his being tossed out is Dr. Austin. When Roy finds out Dr. Austin works at Jefferson Hospital, he plots to poison her. Roy is very skillful. Detecting why Dr. Austin becomes so ill and who did it falls on Lenny. Being cynical, Lenny suspects foul play.

This ninth book in the series contains enough medical drama besides funny anecdotes. The other unique quality of the series is that it depicts the crushing grind of capitalism. The mystery always has several threads set around medical issues. Hospital workers are scrambling to contain the Zika virus which has broken out in Philadelphia. There are so many Zika patients, a triage tent is located outside the Emergency Room entrance. Nurses have to determine if an incoming emergency patient has been bitten by a mosquito. If they have bites, they have to be put in isolation rooms by themselves. Without enough isolation rooms, workers and doctors use ingenuity. Doubling up Zika patients in one room is a solution. Staff shortages and reduced supplies complicate the situation. Nurses battle privacy concerns. Nurses have to wear monitors on lanyards around their necks at all times on duty. Dispatchers monitor their every move and sound, even in the restroom!

Pregnant and women of childbearing age fear getting the Zika virus while attending patients because of the lack of proper safety precautions, such as face masks and gowns. Workers, even those in a union, who miss a day or two of work can be fired. Another thread illuminates the hard struggle to unionize nurses. Nurses could be fired for organizing on the job. The dispatching monitors play a prominent role in this thread. Nurses try to muffle their monitors and meet in the basement so dispatchers can’t hear them.
Find out how it all works out.

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