Reading Doctors and Friends felt surreal for this reviewer after having lived the past two years through the COVID-19 pandemic along with the global community and experiencing some of its myriad consequences. Why surreal? An introductory note to the book explains, “The writing of this novel preceded COVID-19 and therefore there is no mention of the real-life pandemic. In this fictional universe, it does not exist.”
In author Kimmery Martin’s fictional universe, though, another virus named Artiovirus does exist. Three doctors, along with their friends who have stayed in touch since medical school, are swept up in the battle against what they soon realize is a pandemic as the relentless virus spreads uncontrollably: Compton Winfield, an ER doctor in New York; Hannah Geier, an obstetric gynecologist in San Diego; and Kira Marchand, an infectious disease doctor at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Each woman navigates personal losses as a result of the pandemic, deals with excruciatingly painful moral choices, and faces the abyss of complete physical and emotional exhaustion—the price of being on the frontlines trying to save other people’s lives.
Echoes of life with COVID-19—much that might have been unfamiliar to readers two years ago—reverberate through Doctors and Friends: conspiracy theories, the use of PPE, ventilators, abandoned streets, Zoom meetings, employees working from home, tent hospitals, masks, overworked medical staff, temporary morgues set up to handle the overwhelming number of deceased people, and more.
Despite the novel’s painful subject matter, Martin concludes on a note of hope. Numerous plot twists, wry humor, depictions of the unshakeable love between the friends, and portraits of the indestructible bond between parents and their children combine to soften the blow of hardships during the Artiovirus pandemic. This compelling and at times chilling novel for adults, which includes occasional vulgarity and profanity, gives readers a remarkable window into the lives of doctors, human beings like the rest of us. (Berkley)