In the 1930s, author Frederick Schiller Faust gave us a young medical intern by the name of Dr. James Kildare, a character who appeared for decades in movies, TV shows, radio shows, and even a comic strip.
Like Dr. Kildare, Dr. Christopher Seacrest, the main character in The Keeper, a first novel from R.L. Mosz, is young, handsome, debonair, and works with an older doctor he looks up to. Chris Seacrest, however, is not an intern; rather, he is chief of staff at a world-famous medical center, an accomplished neurosurgeon at the age of 34. As the book opens, we find Chris is quite the workaholic:
After tapping his shirt pocket to ensure his signature pen was clipped in place, he expertly swerved his Lamborghini in and out of morning traffic, scheduled surgeries on his cell phone with his personal assistant, Gwen, sipped a cherry almond latte, activated his iPod, and checked the time. He had arisen at his customary 5:30 a.m. and so far the day was right on schedule.
Naturally, this day is going to be different and everything will change. When the elderly Dr. Harlan Melrose can’t make it to work, Chris Seacrest fills in for him. Waiting in room 7 is Caitlin Rosenberry, who at the young age of 24 is recovering from a stroke. She politely refuses to follow Dr. Seacrest’s advice. The doctor is taken aback by Caitlin’s firm rejection of a new medication and runs to Dr. Melrose to object to his patient’s behavior.
In the first television episode of Dr. Kildare, Dr. Gillespie tells Kildare, “Our job is to keep people alive, not to tell them how to live.” Our Dr. Seacrest has two problems: why a patient would refuse a medication, and his inexplicable attraction to her:
…Her brown eyes had an unusual shape about them, succeeding in making her expressions simultaneously humorous and inquisitive.
Caitlin likewise feels a twinge or two for the dashing surgeon, but she worries about the fact that he’s rich (she lives paycheck-to-paycheck) and, understandably, wonders what’s up with that “special pen” thing.
Chris’ best friend Danny, who happens to be his boss at the medical center, has been harboring a secret affection for Caitlin, who works as a server at an organic restaurant Danny frequents. He persuades Chris and another doctor to have lunch with him at The Backyard Plot. Chris, who is still annoyed that Dr. Melrose is unconcerned about Caitlin’s refusal to try a new medication, reluctantly comes along.
This sets up the first time Chris and Caitlin run into each other “accidentally.” While Chris is taking care of the lunch tab, he drops his special pen and in the distraction of Caitlin’s presence, forgets to pick it up. Later, back at the hospital:
“Never mind, I’ve got it.” Reaching into his shirt pocket he felt for his pen. It was gone. He tapped the pocket again in disbelief. His pen was gone!
Danny offers to retrieve the pen for Chris as this gives Danny another “excuse” to see Caitlin and perhaps ask her out on a date. But Chris can’t trust Danny to come through with such an important mission. Upon finding Caitlin has the day off at the restaurant, Chris zooms out in his Lamborghini to Caitlin’s country farmhouse to get his pen.
Danny finds this action to be a personal betrayal:
Danny remained unconvinced, “I can’t believe you drove all he way out there just to get your pen.”
“It was a gift from my grandfather for my twelfth birthday,” Chris attempted to explain. “What did you think … that I was trying to take her away from you or something?” He smiled bemusedly, checking the time.
The plot thickens when Danny starts to watch Chris suspiciously, eyeing his every move in the boardroom:
From time to time, when a colleague disagreed with what he was proposing, Chris’ hand crept up to his shirt pocket and touched the pen. Once, with Chad Lowe on his left side and Meagan Flanders on his right, when both began to protest at his suggestion, Chris actually removed the prized object from his pocket altogether, and began rolling it between his fingers, all the while encouraging his colleagues to see things his way.
Thereafter, Chris goes shopping for pottery at an outdoor market, dragging along his girlfriend Buffy (whom he’s rather lukewarm toward) when who should he spot but Caitlin, working a booth with fellow herb-growers Denver and Clarisse. Caitlin worries about the dirt on her hands and Chris worries about being glad to see her. Meanwhile Danny is still running after Caitlin on his lunch hours and soon sniffs out his unlikely competitor:
“She said she saw you at the farmer’s market,” Danny admitted, studying him curiously. “I guess you neglected to say anything about that earlier because it’s some kind of secret. Why is that? I mean, do you have some objection to my pursuing this girl?”
Adding a touch of humor are the descriptions of Caitlin’s “free-spirited” friends from the all-natural world:
“Hey, sorry about the other day, he remarked suddenly, as if just remembering. “I meant to call, but something really important came up and there wasn’t a phone around.” Denver was morally opposed to cell phones, claiming they were decimating the bee population.
Despite the differences in lifestyle and mounting disapproval from friends, Chris asks Caitlin to attend a medical lecture with him and she accepts. But Caitlin, who’s never had a serious relationship before, has qualms right away. She considers breaking off their first date:
Now she could legitimately tell him no without seeming either unfriendly or apprehensive. Deep within her, however, was a faint sense of dissatisfaction with herself, as if because of her insecurities centered around her past health problems, she now had to turn her back on life. She was, in a sense, suffering from a secondary disability, now that the initial one was virtually mended.
She shakes off her personal insecurities, keeps the date, and listens to Denver complain:
“No problem. I love being out in those fields; it renews my spirit. Listen, have you heard from Clarisse lately?”
“No, not lately.” Apparently Clarisse had gone AWOL again, not an unusual occurrence for her. Caitlin sensed that it was not Clarisse that was really worrying him, however, and braced herself for the onslaught.
“Yeah, well. I’m getting a little worried about her.”
“I wouldn’t lose any sleep. She’s probably just chasing after that boyfriend of hers again.” Caitlin could never remember his name.
“I suppose.” There was a long pause before he continued. “You still planning to go out with the nobility Friday night?”
Sitting in the Lamborghini on the way to the medical lecture, Caitlin reviews her choice:
She thought for a moment of Denver, strumming his guitar up in the mountains, with his usual entourage of friends, including the Somalian missionaries. He’d wanted her to join them, but was cautious to always include her strictly in group activities. His subtle protestations to her actually going out on a real date continued to irritate her.
We are now at the half-way point of the novel, Caitlin and Chris stubbornly forging ahead with their budding romance regardless of the social pressure from all sides. Caitlin takes Chris along to a group dinner at Denver’s house. Chris tries to be a good sport but:
Approaching the address, he realized he was close by one of the universities, and reasoned that Denver was most likely a graduate student. Finally, he pulled up in front of a large, rundown party house, where weeds were running wild all over the property. Reggae music blasted out into the street, and glancing around the student ghetto, he locked his car and carefully set the state-of-the-art alarm system he’d had installed after purchasing it.
Caitlin agrees to go to a Seacrest family barbeque:
Frowning in surprise, she set her cup down. He was inviting her to meet his parents. She was stunned. It certainly didn’t appear as though he was planning to throw her aside when he lost interest, as Denver and Clarisse had inferred.
At the Seacrest mansion over the 4th of July weekend, Caitlin fully recognizes what she’s up against:
…The luxury of the place was positively staggering. Leading her along a spacious passageway into a large living room filled with European furniture, set beneath spectacular Hudson Valley landscape paintings and majestic portraits, she saw Chris’ parents.
“Mom, Dad, this is Caitlin,” he introduced simply, after accepting a light embrace from his mother. “Caitlin, these are my parents, Lucille and Walter.”
“So pleased to meet you,” was their polite response, though their expressions remained somewhat stationary.
The presence of Chris’ ex-girlfriend doesn’t help:
Chris’ eyes traveled across the way, over to the pool where he quickly spotted his sister, conversing with Buffy and her father. His expression was immediately transformed; he appeared strained and irate.
When Chris is called away on an emergency call to the hospital Caitlin literally escapes the situation at the mansion and bolts. The next day, by way of a phone message, Caitlin breaks up with Chris.
Chris is desperate to win Caitlin back, but she has temporarily left town. Things get serious when Harlan Melrose dies of a heart attack. The once powerhouse surgeon is now on the verge of a collapse.
Chapter 14 lifts us a bit out of the soap opera dimensions of this plot. During the funeral for Dr. Melrose, Mosz takes us around the church using various POVs to excellent effect. Everyone is a wreck.
The plot twist in the third act is Chris’ breakthrough about a suppressed childhood trauma (yes, it’s related to the “special pen”). Chris takes a leave of absence from his position as chief of staff and seeks treatment. Caitlin comes back to town and seeks to console Chris but he won’t answer his phone.
Our story is told in a simple, third person voice without judgmental exposition. Mosz does a good job with her details, and inserts another nod to the Dr. Kildare legacy by mentioning the double glass doors at the medical center seven times.
The character POVs are consistent and their personality details telling: Harlan’s love of birds, Chris’ special pen, Caitlin’s grungy truck-driving neighbor at the farm, Denver’s friends sitting on the floor to eat their vegetarian dinner, Danny’s outrage at Chris not attending an important meeting.
Dialogue and scenes are used in all the right places. The medical complex, the country farm, the organic restaurant, the manor, even the open-air market are all described very nicely. Location is somewhere on the East Coast but this is not emphasized and the story could have taken place anywhere.
In many scenes, Mosz lets the setting enhance the mood, as we see with Danny at the funeral:
Having been raised an unbeliever, religious traditions of all kinds spooked him. The wind whipped at his face and he burrowed his hands deep into his coat pockets, squinting forlornly into the crowd entering the church.
Mosz is also good at having the characters act in ways that reflect how they feel about their surroundings:
“Well, you probably should have tried that new import store uptown,” Buffy declared doubtfully. She really didn’t care for all the riff-raff down on the waterfront peddling their goods like medieval farmers…
However, the settings don’t slow down the action. Mosz is good at choosing the right places to either move ahead or flash back, the flashbacks brief and staying well within in the scene.
Two large themes emerge from this story, one of which is culture clash, first introduced with the inset of a “Private Property” sign on front cover: superficial judgments and attempted protection of ego-identifiers come at Chris and Caitlin in the form of their friends’ objections to their dating. On a modern note, Caitlin struggles with not having health insurance and can’t pay her bills from the “world-renowned” medical center.
Appended to this theme is the issue of medical ethics, illustrated in this exchange:
She placed the medication safely in the cabinet. “It’s none of your business.”
That was his answer. The pills were from the moneyed doctor/boyfriend, despite not being her actually physician. It was a peculiar situation to say the least, her dating a prominent surgeon who also functioned as some sort of adjunct medical consultant to her regular physician.
“Well, did he advise you to get your liver tested, somewhere down the line?”
“I’m not going to be on them that long.”
“I still think you’d be better off seeing a good…”
“No, Denver. And that’s final.” She glared at him warningly.
With the third act we begin to see a larger issue: trauma and violence treatment. This theme is inserted into the story with a light touch as the story builds and by the time Chris has his breakthrough we realize the signs were there all along.
The ending is not lengthy and is plausible but left me a bit unsatisfied. I wanted more exploration of what Caitlin went through when she went off to California after the break-up (there was only a brief mention that she had obtained some sort of closure—how?). Also, Chris’ therapy took only two months in a lovely Vermont setting, probably at great financial expense. After 22 years of repressing his trauma, surely Chris has more healing to go through. And what of folks who can’t afford therapy? Consider this passage:
Jack frowned slightly, pausing to examine a particularly exquisite blossom. “Actually Caitlin, this is only one of the Seacrest domiciles. They own five.”
Five! Five places like this one! It was too much for her. When she occasionally worked until 8:00 p.m. at The Backyard Plot, the surrounding streets were littered with bedraggled human beings, slumped over grates for warmth, wrapped around with filthy pieces of cardboard.
With the external challenges of different lifestyles and the need for further internal adjustments (couples therapy, perhaps?), the ending invites a sequel.
The much larger challenge for this novel is the lack of a professional edit. Equal attention must be paid to the craft of writing as to the creation of an involving plot and modern themes worthy of discussion. I’m not talking about typos— in fact I had to search for them—and there are only a few instances where tenses are mixed: (“his tight fitting breakneck pace suddenly threatened to crumble” should be “threatening to crumble”). Here are examples of the larger writing problems:
Dangling participles: “Goodnight,” Harlan responded, shaking his head and turning to an article with an approving smile, that proclaimed feeding the birds improved one’s immune system.
Modifiers: Too many adjectives and adverbs (some of the adjectives have adjectives) and too many commas: The entire, fanatically busy afternoon, was all a blur.
Attributions with run-on phrases attached: “You seem a million miles away tonight,” Buffy related to him, five hours later over dinner at the country club, not unkindly. (Side note: We had already been told six pages earlier that Chris was meeting Buffy at the club for dinner.)
Word repetitions: The words suddenly, logicality, threatened/threatening, equably, immediately are overused and there is too much shaking of heads and sighing.
As to the book’s physical presentation, the front cover has a beautiful shot of country road winding through a lovely canopy of trees; the title font is complementary; the inset of a “Private Property” sign in lower right-hand corner adds intrigue; and I was happy I didn’t find the words “A Novel.” The back cover has another pretty picture along with a blurb, the text of which is sufficiently true to the contents.
The text format could use a little tweaking. The double-spaced pages should be single-spaced. On the Contents page the “p.” is not needed before a page number and the title “Contents” should be added at the top of the page. No page number is required on an Acknowledgements page. Page numbers of the main text should begin with 3, not 1. On the footer and header, a smaller font is needed with more space before and after the text. Hyphenation is not overused, but unnecessary.
To recap, plot and character development are great, themes are pertinent to modern times, descriptive details are often entertaining, dialogue is fine, setting and pacing are well done, the various POVs are handled nicely, and the narrative voice is consistent. If these were the only things that mattered, and since I appreciate the subtle nods to Dr. Kildare, I’d give The Keeper 4 stars. But the writing has major craft problems and I can only give it 3 stars. Even with the satisfactory larger elements, the manuscript must have a professional edit so the read becomes smoother and the story flows unobstructed.
With its relevant modern themes, this novel has potential. And don’t forget, the Dr. Kildare comic strip by Ken Bald ran for 21 years.
About the Author
R. L. Mosz wrote The Keeper in sympathy for victims of trauma. She lives in southwestern Montana, and enjoys gardening, hiking, and birdwatching.
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About Lela Michael
Lela Michael is a freelance copy editor and book reviewer. Her website The Plot Thicks is on WordPress and she's on Twitter as @ThePlotThicks.