The novel is about a young paramedic in Harlem who, trying to fit in, falls under the influence of some seriously burned out medics.
Black Fliesis a much better read than Burke’s first book, which while well-written, seemed to rely more on craft than emotion, and was a slow go for me. This new book is a page turner, and at times, is quite moving.
Burke does an excellent job in describing EMS scenes. His character portrayals are also well done. He really shows how easy it is for an impressionable young person to be molded in all the wrong ways by poor role-models. His portrayal of the gradual unraveling of an older medic is unsettling.
I think most medics and EMTs will enjoy the book although some may be turned off by some of the actions of certain medics in the book. Burnout unfortunately seems to be the universal theme of EMS fiction, i.e. Joe Connelly’s Bringing Out the Dead as well as the movie Broken Vessels.
I’ve worked inner city EMS and I’ve seen burned out medics, but the characters in this book are well beyond my experience. Nevertheless, the book itself while diving into EMS’s darkest corners, is ultimately redeeming. There is a particularly good scene when the young medic, on his own, visits the family of a patient who was left to die by the medic and his partner.
It is my understanding the novel is being made into a movie to be released by Paramount in January 2009.
Here’s an old New York Times profile of the author who worked as an EMT/paramedic in Harlem in the 1990s.