Medical Thriller

What is the Medical Thriller/Mystery Subgenre?

What is the Medical Thriller/Mystery Subgenre?

Medical Thrillers/Mystery are a type of the thriller category that resolves around medicine, epidemics and such.

They envision horrific scenarios where diseases, medicine, advancements, and other aspects of medicine can lead to epidemics and catestrophes. In some cases, villains use their medical training for sinister motives, plans, or designs.

In these books, medical professionals face mysteries of immunology, virology, killings, deaths, and other sinister plots. Typical of the genre, writers in this area can transform current medical topics or situations into harsh and impossible scenarios.

Robin Cook’s 1999 title, Vector, detailed the horror of a bio-terrorist anthrax attack in New York City.

Michael Palmer’s 2002 title, Fatal, deals with hazardous waste and the dangers of vaccinations.

Patricia Cornwell has written several books dealing with medical examiner Kay Scarpetta and has revolutionized medical stories.  Her plots are notable for their emphasis on forensic science, which has influenced other authors and TV shows related to police work and medical examiners. Her books have sold more than 100 million copies

Tess Gerritsen is considered the new champion of the medical thriller. In 1996, Gerritsen wrote Harvest, her first medical thriller. Subsequently, she wrote three more bestselling medical thrillers. Her books insipired the television show Razzoli and Isles.


For lovers of crime fiction, it seems that medical mysteries and thrillers try to uncover gross medical problems, situations, and to understand the human aspect in these situations, both the good and bad. The vilain is under a microscope on how they pervert medicine and spread the destruction through the community, country, or a single victim. Death and disease can be present in unrelenting amounts. How can one save the soul, solve the medical problem, and fix the epidemic.

In these books there is often police involvment, detectives, and/or amateur sleuths who step forward to help or block the progress of the case. Sometimes the author writes from the prespective of the medical examiner, the police, or another options. No matter how it is done, the medical mystery is a sub-genre that continues to thrive.

From thrillers featuring corporate conspirators, to a rogue doctor, a deadly disease, or a brilliant serial killer – these books rely on medicine to solve, help, or surround the characters in unprecentded ways. Medical mysteries and thrillers are often part of the top bestseller lists. 

So what’s the underlying cause of this sub-genre’s popularity? Is it the inherent mysteries of the human body? The confusion, fear, and excitement of medical maladies and hope of their cure? The potential of mass destrution worldwide by a simpe microbes is too juicy to pass up. Medicine, whether modern,  or mystical, is something that most readers understand well. We’ve seen death in our homes, familes, and we’ve all been to the emergency room. Add in our love for mystery and crime – it just might be the perfect genre. 



Outbreak by Robin Cook

Murder and intrigue reach epidemic proportions when a devastating plague sweeps the country. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control investigates–and soon uncovers the medical world’s deadliest secret….
“Cook’s most harrowing medical horror story.”– “New York Times”
* A New York Times bestseller
* Still timely–and terrifying–this thriller anticipated “The Hot Zone” and a number of “epidemic disease” movies
* Robin Cook is the reigning king of medical suspense






Post-Mortem by Patricia Cornwell

Discover the “dazzling…fascinating” (Los Angeles Times) novel that launched the New York Times bestselling Kay Scarpetta series from #1 bestselling crime writer Patricia Cornwell.

Under cover of night in Richmond, Virginia, a monster strikes, leaving a gruesome trail of stranglings that has paralyzed the city. Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta suspects the worst: a deliberate campaign by a brilliant serial killer whose signature offers precious few clues. With an unerring eye, she calls on the latest advances in forensic research to unmask the madman. But this investigation will test Kay like no other, because it’s being sabotaged from within—and someone wants her dead.





Harvest by Tess Gerritsen

In this classic medical thriller filled with harrowing suspense and brilliantly crafted plot twists, Tess Gerritsen—the author of the acclaimed Rizzoli & Isles series that inspired the hit television show—delivers a pulse-pounding tale that “will make your heart skip a beat” (USA TODAY).

For Dr. Abby DiMatteo, the long road to Boston’s Bayside Hospital has been anything but easy. Now, immersed in the grinding fatigue of her second year as a surgical resident, she’s elated when the hospital’s elite cardiac transplant team taps her as a potential recruit.

But Abby soon makes an anguished, crucial decision that jeopardizes her entire career. A car crash victim’s healthy heart is ready to be harvested; it is immediately cross-matched to a wealthy private patient, Nina Voss. Abby hatches a bold plan to make sure that the transplant goes instead to a dying seventeen-year-old boy who is also a perfect match.

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