Book Review- Addiction on Trial by Steven Kassels, MD:
A book with interwoven genres of crime, murder-mystery, courtroom drama, dysfunctional family dynamics, Emergency Medical drama, and addiction.
Other reviews of this book discuss the legal aspect, the medical murder, thriller angle that offers suspense and describe it as a “page turner.” While this is all true, the book also offers a rare insight into addiction itself and the daily struggles addicts face. The story is educational, without being too technical.
The main characters are Annette Fiorno, her boyfriend, Travis Bomer, and his childhood friend, Jimmy Sedgwick. All are drug addicts-two have not fully acknowledged or entered any kind of treatment, though discuss cutting back and keeping an eye on each other’s drug usage and one has acknowledged the addiction and been in and out of treatment. The drugs involved are heroin, cocaine, oxycontin pills (which are typically prescribed for pain) and alcohol.
The book opens with a description of a physician’s ‘typical’ day working in the ER (Jimmy’s father) to the delicate act of balancing professional work and family as Jimmy is arrested for possession of drugs. If this short opening chapter does not draw you in, chapter 3 will as it focuses on the finding of Annette’s decomposing body and the subsequent finding of Jimmy’s and Annette’s blood splattered over the dashboard of the deceased’s car.
Are you intrigued yet?
As a helping professional, trained as a social worker, the complex issues surrounding addiction interest me. The story provides a good background of addiction, the challenges the characters face, the denial, the lies, the stress of hiding their drug usage, the risks involved in buying the drugs, carrying the drugs, and the chronic lifelong disease itself. Addiction is a psychological, biological, and social disease that does not discriminate by ethnicity, culture, socioeconomics, geography or gender. The educational element in the book describes addiction as a disease much like diabetes or cancer. Both can have periods of remission, relapse and as of now, no cure.
Any of us can mentally go through our list of family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors and at least one, if not more, have a chronic disease. Health diseases may come to mind first, but addiction is there as well, whether street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, nicotine, gambling, and the list goes on.
An individual’s addiction has a huge effect on family, friends, and colleagues, entangling many in the cover-up and denial of drug use. While this is not unusual, the enabling behavior adds complications not only to the individual using or engaging in the risk taking and/or addictive behavior, but to family and friends as well.
If this is not the aspect of the book that will interest you the most, the ‘dysfunctional’ family issues, the legal angle of small town Maine lawyer vs. big city Boston lawyer, the courtroom drama and criminal investigation angle will draw you in.
It is an excellent book and definitely worth reading! I await the next in the series……
Interview with the author Steven Kassels, MD:
As a physician, how did the area of addiction become of interest to you and what are some of your concerns?
As a physician working in emergency medicine, I became aware that in many cases, more than 50% of patient visits to the hospital emergency room were related, either directly or indirectly to the disease of addiction. For example, the child with asthma due to a parent smoking in the home, the unexpected teenage pregnancy due to drugs or alcohol, auto accidents, patients feigning back pain or kidney stones to get pain medications, heart disease, etc. This led me to also become board certified in addiction medicine. As I continued in my years of practice in Emergency Medicine and Addiction Medicine, I have had the privilege to treat patients from all walks of life as there are no socioeconomic or geographical barriers to most illnesses or addictive behaviors.
From a medical perspective, it is very clear that we have differences, but we are more similar than not. When we are sick, we all benefit from compassion and care. Society should not differentiate between what diseases we should treat.
Accessible treatment (location and cost) needs to be available to patients with the disease of addiction. How is treating one with chronic drug addiction any different than treating one with chronic diabetes? Both can have a genetic predisposition and for both there can be a strong socialization element as well. Who wants to be the only person not drinking alcohol at a party or not eating a piece of birthday cake? If medications are readily available to treat diabetics, are they prescribed along with the necessary referral to meet with a nutritionist or dietician about dietary choices/changes?Should not this type of supportive counseling also be readily available for patients with addictive related diseases?
What led you to write the book and how did you come up with the theme?
As a physician, I have learned an incredible amount from the many courageous patients who entrusted me with their medical care. Since I always wanted to write a novel, what better way to entertain than to combine my knowledge as a physician with my imagination as a fictional storyteller; albeit based on medical and legal truths. I also wanted to convey a message, but who wants to read another scientific book about addiction? Not me! So I created Addiction on Trial as a murder-mystery/legal thriller with the issues of addiction woven throughout the storyline.
I hope I have accomplished my two goals: one being to educate about addiction without it coming across as a lecture, to encourage discussions, and to raise awareness that the disease is everywhere; the other to create an easy to read sit on the beach or by the fire murder-mystery that would be enjoyed by readers and passed on to a friend, family member or acquaintance.
Can you provide a hint at what the next book in the Shawn Marks series is about?
The next book in the series of “Shawn Marks Thrillers,” is: Lost to Addiction. In the sequel, Attorney Marks travels to Europe and to the seedy underground of drug distribution centers in Guadalajara, Mexico in order to defend the son of a wealthy shipping magnate who has been accused of a gangland style murder.
Anything else you would like to add?
I hope my book become a tool for discussion in book clubs. The characters, the plot, questions re: the small town and big-city lawyer angle, the verdict of the trial, etc. and to go a step further and talk about addiction. That is why I have set up a book club discussion topics page and hope that readers will contact me to Skype or come in person to their book gatherings.
Finally, I would like to thank you for your interest in my book and my passion to entertain and educate through literary means.
A special thank you to Steven Kassels for taking the time to speak to me. I hope those that read the book enjoy it and learn from it as much as I did!
By Victoria Brewster, MSW – Staff Writer
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