Monthly Archives: June 2019

“The Case of the Felonious Friend” and “The Question of the Dead Mistress” – Asperger’s Mysteries by EJ Copperman and Jeff Cohen

 

The Question of the Dead Mistress (An Asperger's Mystery Book 5)

Among the forms of “identity politics” emerging in American culture is the “disability” subculture. The Americans with Disabilities Act (now almost 30 years old) prohibited discrimination based on disability and codified the concepts of accommodation and accessibility. As always, the devil is in the details. The past three decades have been spent working them out, and along with this has come a cultural shift in how “disabled” people see themselves and interact with others. So, logically, a genre of “disability literature” is appearing.

I stumbled on the Asperger’s Mystery series at the Library. The series dates from 2014 and the books I read are #2 and #5 (I think).

When I started reading The Case of the Felonious Friend, I found the language, which is in the first person from an Asperger’s point of view, to be unpleasantly choppy. But an early plot twist caught my attention and I got used to the author’s cadence. A very good mystery read, with the advantage of being set in New Jersey, which I found amusing!

The protagonist, Samuel Hoenig, has spent his life learning how to get along with “neurotypicals”, that is, those of us who aren’t on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. It’s a struggle, and he works hard at it, with help from his mother and a psychologist. He owns a successful business called Questions Answered. He has two close neurotypical friends (his work partner and a taxi driver named Mike). Samuel is the only character with Asperger’s in The Question of the Dead Mistress. There’s a romance in the works. If this series unfolds like other mystery series (for example, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books), it could go on for MANY more volumes.

I’m not giving the plots away. If you like mysteries, read these books! Another good series with an Asperger’s protagonist is Graeme Simsion’s Don Tillman/Rosie series. That’s romantic comedy, not mystery. I reviewed one of these here.

A young person with Asperger’s syndrome is much in the news recently – Greta Thunberg of Sweden, 16 year old climate activist. She has kicked the conversation on climate change to a new level (crisis), addressing international bodies with an enviable level of composure. She’s a notable leader in our difficult times.

So what does it mean to be neurotypical? Hard to say, when “normal” cannot be defined. Usually, it refers to anyone NOT on the autism spectrum. But a new concept, that of “neurological diversity” is emerging, and it is broader. It might include brain injury survivors and stoke victims, who think and function differently from their earlier baselines, and who may (or may not) consider themselves to be disabled. It might include dyslexics. Oliver Sachs wrote about many people whose brains seem to operate “differently”.

I recommend the Asperger’s Mysteries for mystery lovers and anyone looking for new and interesting avenues in contemporary fiction.

 

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“Finish Strong – Putting YOUR Priorities First at Life’s End” by Barbara Coombs Lee

This is an excellent book and I’ve already sent a copy to a family member who is dealing with the very serious illness of her husband. I think all my “baby boomer” contemporaries need to read it. I’m tired of hearing people say it’s “too soon” to think about old age. “Later” has a way of arriving unannounced.

One of the best things about this book is that it critiques the use of “advanced directives” and acknowledges how often they are ignored. I think my father was resuscitated three times against orders, in the last two weeks of his life (1997). The eventual decision to switch to “comfort care” made his last hours peaceful.

Ms. Lee’s discussion of hospice care (at home or elsewhere) is severely at odds with my experience and perception. Her experience is both longer and broader than mine. Maybe at some time (decades ago?) and some place (not New Jersey), hospice provided the idyllic and thoughtful care she describes. But MY “here-and-now” observation suggests that hospice care has been completely commercialized and is just one more service provided by giant “health care” corporations determined to squeeze every possible dollar out of sick people and their insurance carriers.

I could write an extensive rant, but I won’t do it here. I do wish to note that two of my close friends, whose experience with hospice is more extensive than mine and who hold relevant professional credentials, agree with my opinion. One of these individuals is a licensed clinical social worker, the other a hospice chaplain.

Another substantive concern of mine is that Ms. Coombs seems to assume that one’s PCP (primary care physician) will be involved at all stages of illness and death. It seems to me that this is rapidly becoming less likely. Even among people with insurance, some simply don’t choose a PCP, relying on urgent care instead. My insurance company encourages use of urgent care for things I think of as primary care issues, so my number of PCP visits (and opportunities for discussion) may drop.

To complicate matters, I’m running through PCPs like Kleenex. Four in five years, not my choice…  Is this happening everywhere? Within the primary care practice I use, even rather serious illness may be handled by a nurse practitioner. (I hope they show more longevity than physicians.) And, when one is hospitalized, visits by the PCP aren’t scheduled. I understand a specialist called a “hospitalist” is in charge. My observation (based on family experiences) is that often, NO ONE IS IN CHARGE.

Another good thing about this book is that it emphasizes values and spiritual considerations at the end of life.

Is this a depressing book? No! It’s full of practical suggestions, and offers hope that patients and their advocates can, with persistence, get more responsive care.