Overhead Is Murder

  1. Christie Carrico, PhD
  1. Executive Officer of ASPET.


    Medical School Is Murder. Dirk Wyle. Highland City, FL, USA: Rainbow Books; 2001. 286 pages. $14.95. ISBN: 1568250843

    Ben Candidi is back. Not only in another “…Is Murder ” novel, but at Bryant Medical School in Miami. After a very brief stint as a consultant in the biotechnology industry and then as a patent examiner in the Patent and Trademark Office, Ben abandons his long-range plan of becoming a high-paid technology transfer consultant and returns to Bryant Medical School to take over the lab and research grant of a recently deceased Professor in the Physiology and Cellular Anatomy Department. Pete Peterson died of natural causes (if you can call falling off a fence while smoking your pipe and drowning in a drainage ditch, natural causes) and his research grant has two more years to run. If you can suspend reality to accept the premise that the Dean and Department Chair would give this opportunity to a former graduate student who was regarded as a trouble-maker when he was there, never did a post-doc, and actively thumbed his nose at the establishment, then you may enjoy this book.


    Once Ben gets to Miami, leaving both his beloved Rebecca and his boat in Washington, he gets involved not only in Peterson’s research, but also in writing his biography. Pete’s niece gets her inheritance only if she writes his biography, but she really isn’t interested in doing it and offers to pay Ben $15,000 to do it for her. Pete Peterson was an iconoclast, known for his outspoken and somewhat incoherent views on a wide variety of topics, all of which made him quite unpopular with an equally wide variety of people inside the university and out. And Ben runs afoul of most of them—animal rights activists, fast food franchises, Unitarians, and the medical school administration. He moves into Pete’s apartment after fending off his and Rebecca’s somnambulistic former roommate who attempted to seduce him in her sleep. He gets attacked in the apartment by person or persons unknown, and the medical school security department refuses to believe him. His proposal to collaborate in a program project grant with the big boys gets turned down when the medical school administration decides to withdraw the proposal for some strange, but probably ignoble, reason. He has to do his own repairs in the lab because the medical school administration charges too much. He misses Rebecca. Ben is NOT having a good time.

    As Ben proceeds to write Pete Peterson’s biography he discovers—surprise!—that Pete was probably murdered and that, somehow, this may have been related to Pete’s investigations into, and diatribes on, the medical school administration’s accounting procedures for federally mandated overhead on grants. Once again, Ben gets involved in a murder investigation and, in the course of it, almost gets murdered himself. There is some interesting pharmacology involved in figuring out how Pete was murdered without it being detected. Disappointingly, the mystery of why Pete was murdered is solved not so much by Ben’s clever detective work, but by a package of letters sent to him by Pete’s niece “To Be Opened in the Event of My Death.” Deus ex machina, anyone?

    You may also notice a thread here: the nasty medical school administration. And if you thought the members of the Pharmacology Department at Bryant Medical School were bad in Pharmacology Is Murder , wait until you meet the medical school administration! At least the pharmacology department was only into murder. The deans and their cronies, besides being engaged in accounting practices that would make Arthur Anderson nod in recognition, are into murder, mayhem, illicit drugs, libel, weird sex, and pornography. Ah, you say, finally a true-to-life murder mystery!

    There are plenty of allusions to research in antioxidants and apoptosis, program project grants, university accounting, NIH study sections, the Biophysical Society, and even the FASEB meeting. It is always fun to read about things with which you are familiar, but maybe it is time for Dirk Wyle to give Ben Candidi a rest. The formula that worked well in Pharmacology Is Murder tends to wear thin here. The plot is almost too extreme to accept, even if one assumes it is done tongue-in-cheek. The characters are almost too extreme as caricatures of real-life types. I read this book to finish it, not because I couldn’t wait to find out whodunit.

    Dirk Wyle is the nom de plume of Duncan H. Haynes, PhD. He is a retired medical school professor who did research in the areas of blood coagulation and drug delivery. This is his third book in the Ben Candidi series.

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