Set in the fictional South Berlin Teaching Hospital, Christoph Spielberg’s amusing crime series features the adventures of Dr. Felix Hoffman, a 40-something emergency room attending physician. Dr. H. remarks on everything with a jaded eye and a humorous air, and nothing is sacred. He skewers the medical profession; hospitals and their recent turn toward privatization; medical personnel and their motives; and healthcare’s draconian cost-cutting measures. Taking in the proceedings from his viewpoint is to catch everything just a little off-kilter, with a bit of a zany edge.
In The Russian Donation, the first of the series to be published in English, Hoffman gets into a muddle when an ER patient named Misha arrives via ambulance and promptly dies . . . or was he dead before he arrived? The situation mushrooms into a mystery when the official death certificate (signed by Hoffman) turns up a while later—filled out with a different cause of death. Then the patient’s medical file goes missing altogether. Dr. H. sets out to find who’s behind the mess and why, resulting in a smooth pairing of comedy and crime.
As seen through Hoffman’s sardonic and wary eyes, the privately administered South Berlin Hospital contains a rogue’s gallery of suspects, some downright Damon Runyon-esque (in a Germanic sort of way). There are odd goings-on in the blood bank, and the young resident who accompanied Misha’s stretcher into the ER is suddenly posted to America. The hospital’s COO, who’s been stonewalling Hoffman’s investigation, gets stonewalled himself. All of these dire and comic events get sorted out after Hoffman and his smart and sassy girlfriend hunker down with a stack of pilfered documents to figure out how everything connects.
Readers who like a good mystery sprinkled with wit and a touch of sarcasm will enjoy the thrusts and parries administered by author Christoph Spielberg, who studied medicine in the U.S. as a German exchange student before he published this series. The novel is ably translated by Gerald Chapple, who must have enjoyed a good chuckle or two as he worked.