It would be hard to commit yourself to the practice of medicine, especially as a surgeon–a general surgeon to be exact. You would have to dedicate–I don’t know–at least fifteen years to schooling. And that’s just the tip of the ice burg.

All the stress. The browbeating from superiors. The tightwire dance between life and death. The dodging bullets of malpractice because everyone, no matter how brilliant, makes mistakes. The “we did everything we could” talks with the family. The sleep depravation. And so on.

And so forth.

But the “honor” of handling someone’s intestines, of piecing a liver back together, of stemming a hemorrhaging spleen, yes, of saving life and limb makes it worth it. And if not that, then the money and the prestige should do the trick…except when they don’t. That’s the predicament character Dr. Alex Brantley finds himself in within the roughly three hundred pages of Arthur Herbert’s–himself a general surgeon–medical thriller, The Cuts That Cure.

Better suited as a general practitioner than a general surgeon, Dr. Brantley is burned out and in deep medical school debt. Then, to add serious bodily harm–torture, really–to insult, a badly burned baby turns up in the E.R. and it’s evident that the child has been purposely scalded. It’s the final straw. Dr. Brantley quits, but not before he disfigures the white trash baby mama/daddy car with a tire iron.

And he’s just getting started.

Alex–don’t call him Dr. Brantley anymore–checks into a no-tell-motel and attempts suicide, only to wake up disappointed in a psych-ward. He does his mandatory time in said psych-ward before making his way to a small town in the scrubby draw of the Texas hill country. There he settles in an efficiency apartment above the garage of a kindly old land lady, but not before he rescues a dog–24 hours away from euthanasia, of course.

He hires an attractive lady lawyer to help him wiggle out of some of his medical school debt and pays the rent as a high school science teacher where one of his students happens to be a burgeoning serial killer. The kid’s name is Henry.

Okay. Now we’re cookin’ with Crisco.

Only we’re not.

That’s cause author Herbert keeps takin’ the damn skillet off the damn burner. He kills Henry off with about another one hundred fifty pages to go.

Sure, there’s sub plots and parallel narratives, stuff like that going on. That’s the problem. The plot thickens to the point of embolism.

Let’s see, Alex takes up with a dubious real estate lawyer–not sexually, everybody’s respectfully heterosexual here; besides that, the lawyer has a paunch–who introduces him to a notoriously evil cartel lieutenant and the elegant but even more evil jefe of the cartel. (Yeah, you guessed it, the cartel boss is long winded. He likes to tell stories.) And, well, you know…every cartel needs a doctor on the payroll.

So you can pretty much guess where this is going, some whiplash inducing twists and turns notwithstanding. Hey, it is a thriller–and a medical one at that.

Herbert does a respectable job, especially considering that this is his first published novel; he is a surgeon after all. Nonetheless, though his hands are deft with a scalpel, no doubt, perhaps he should dial it back on all the plot juggling until he has a bit more experience. Just because you can pull off a laparotomy and a face lift at the same time doesn’t mean that you should.