Staff Picks Book Review - Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson

Friday, June 30, 2023

Sometimes People Die by Simon StephensonAs Dr. Sudbury tells the junior doctors in her hospital, "a hospital is a dangerous place to be". This message is driven home by the unnamed narrator in Sometimes People Die. A Scotsman by birth, the young doctor has joined the staff of St. Luke's Hospital. A former opioid addict who used his role as a health care provider to fuel his addiction, the young protagonist opens up about the life of a doctor, particularly an overworked one in London's east end. Late nights, the pressure of career advancement, the deaths of patients and loved ones, and the stress of a job with the ever-present mantra to "do no harm" come through wonderfully in the narrator's candid dialogue with the reader.

As the title says, sometimes people die. The problem is, patients at St. Luke’s are dying more often than they statistically should and it has not gone unnoticed by the authorities. Throughout the book, the narrator shares the stories of real health care killers to show how those we most trust with safeguarding our health can be more dangerous than any infection or fever. Positive that a killer is walking the halls of St. Luke’s, the local authorities begin a Nightingale Investigation to find the guilty party.

This book lacks the pace for a suspense enthusiast or the grittiness of a mystery/legal drama, but fans of psychological fiction who enjoy a story that allows them to bond with the main character will find a new favorite in Sometimes People Die. A doctor before he took up the pen to try his hand at screenwriting and novels, Stephenson describes the work of health professionals in a way that only one who has walked the same halls can. If you do enjoy Sometimes People Die, check out these other works of psychological fiction.

We're in Trouble by Christopher Coake

In this extraordinary collection of short fiction, characters wrestle with the moments in life that test us most deeply, in ways both dramatic and subtle. In “We’re in Trouble”, a woman is asked to end her dying husband’s suffering. In “Abandon”, a troubled young man must risk jail to do right by the only woman he has ever loved. And “In the Event” shows a young musician’s all-night vigil after he loses his best friends and is suddenly left as the guardian of their three-year-old son.

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen

A novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932. When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

The Water Children by Anne Berry

From the icy banks of a secluded country pond to the fevered core of a historic London heat wave and immersion in an abandoned underwater village in the Tuscan mountains, four young people, each of whose lives has been irrevocably altered by water, converge in this brilliantly plotted drama of passion, betrayal, revenge, and redemption.



  • Owen is haunted by nightmares of the Merfolk. He believes they have stolen his little sister, who vanished while he was meant to be watching her on the beach. But he was only a child himself. Is it fair for his mother to have blamed him all these years?
  • Catherine's perfect Christmas was ruined when she went skating on a frozen pond with her cousin and the other girl nearly died. Yet it is Catherine who feels, as she says, "permanently trapped under the ice."
  • Sean grew up on a farm in Ireland. Learning to swim in the River Shannon was his way of escaping the bitter poverty of his childhood, but communing with the river spirits incurred his superstitious father's wrath.
  • Naomi never feared the water. She was orphaned, cruelly abused, and the sea offered a cleansing balm; she reveled in the ocean's power. But Naomi has another secret buried deep within her, and during one searing hot summer she will be the catalyst for the coming together, and tearing apart, of the water children.
Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz

An astonishing tale of grief and anger, memory and survival, Displaced Persons marks the arrival of a supremely gifted new literary talent, Ghita Schwarz. Schwarz's powerful story of a group of Holocaust survivors, displaced persons, struggling to remake their lives and cope with the stigma of their pasts in the wake of the monumental Nazi horror is beautiful, tragic, moving, and unforgettable, chronicling the lives of ordinary people who have suffered under extraordinary circumstances.

The Coma by Alex Garland

When Carl awakens from a coma after being attacked on a subway train, life around him feels unfamiliar, even strange. He arrives at his best friend's house without remembering how he got there; he seems to be having an affair with his secretary, which is pleasant but surprising. He starts to notice distortions in his experience, strange leaps in his perception of time. Is he truly reacting with the outside world, he wonders, or might he be terribly mistaken? Now begins a dark psychological drama that raises questions about the human psyche, dream versus reality, and the boundaries of consciousness. As Carl grapples with his predicament, Alex Garland, author of The Beach and the screenplay for 28 Days Later, plays with conventions and questions our assumptions about the way we exist in the world, even as it draws us into the unsettling and haunting book about a lost suitcase and a forgotten identity.

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