Murder, drugs, romantic liaisons and pharmacy

Angelo Pricolo reviews a mystery novel and interviews its pharmacist author

Murder, drugs, romantic liaisons and pharmacy … Dr Rick Morrow, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, at Drake University Des Moines in Iowa USA managed to weave these all into his novel Death of the Druggist.

As a lifelong mystery aficionado, Rick in his newly released novel not only sought to portray pharmacists as caring health professionals, but also as heroic problem solvers.

The story revolves around Vic Fye who has a secure second career as an itinerant pharmacist until his best friend is brutally slain during a robbery. Encouraged by a woman from his past, Vic volunteers to help his friend’s widow with the family pharmacy.

His efforts to keep the business solvent meet a campaign of opposition from powerful people in the community. The hostility intensifies, progressing from acts of vandalism to murderous attacks against Vic, his friends, his godson, and even his dog.

In spite of being distracted by romantic entanglements and business setbacks, Vic eventually concludes that his friend’s murder is more than a robbery gone sour. He refuses to leave town until he resolves the family’s financial picture and finds justice for his murdered friend.

Vic leaves pharmacy to become a DEA agent and sometimes feels his relationship with pharmacists is now rocky due to the prosecutions he has had to facilitate when drugs become items of commerce and end up in un-authorised hands. Most pharmacists have destroyed out-of-date drugs that have high street values and would never consider crossing the line…

The author cleverly weaves professional dilemmas into the storyline. Evidently in the USA, as in Australia, many small business owners are struggling to compete with big chains. The book explores some unscrupulous work practices employed to increase profits and the pitfalls involved.

At one stage Vic is working as a locum in a pharmacy and finds a loaded pistol behind the codeine. His reaction is to check that the gun is in good working order, and then he replaced it carefully in the same spot. Not sure that the same would be said for most Australian pharmacists or what OH&S or QCPP guidelines would recommend in this situation?

I was lucky enough to be able to do a virtual interview with Dr Rick Morrow from his home in Venice, Florida and ask him a few questions about his writing.

1. Firstly, can anyone write a book or is it important to follow certain rules?

The question might better be should just anyone write a book? Self-publishing via Amazon is to writing what karaoke is to vocal music. Who is he/she trying to kid?

As I eased into retirement, now nine years ago, I enrolled in an on-line endeavour known as Novel in November. In essence, the idea is to write and record a 50,000-word book during the 30 days of November. In advance, I prepared a 30-part outline and then beginning on November 1, dutifully cranked out 1500-2000 words each day.

I recognised that what I had concocted needed extensive revision. I did so as I applied what I learned from attending writing workshops and reading scores of articles and books about writing technique and novel structure. As I repeatedly revised, the most monumental change was to move from first person to third person … a process that was a far cry away from simply substituting “he” for “I”.

My scientific writing and lecturing largely employed the passive voice. Writing in the active voice promotes a faster pace and in the reader a sense that something is happening, not maybe could happen. There were thousands of changes arising from simply re-reading silently and out loud to reveal awkwardness, redundancies, spelling and grammatical errors, stilted dialog and more.

There is a well-established structure for stories, books, television programs, and movies that involves a story arc with three acts and three crucial events that occur at roughly 25% intervals. There are prescriptive characteristics for heroes and villains.

There needs to be an initial hook to capture the reader’s interest and frequent obstacles and dangers to keep the tension high. All of this enlightenment led to introducing new scenes, rearranging others, and eliminating even more material including much of what might have been fodder for a pharmacy administration text.

Suffice it to say, it took eight years before I hit the “publish button” on the Amazon sponsored publishing website.

2. Is it inevitable some of you ends up in your book and do you just include your good bits?

It is indeed inevitable that autobiographical information shows up in one’s writing, most often as traits and events related to the protagonist. Writers are repeatedly admonished to “write what you know” and “don’t save any ammunition”. I obeyed.

Saying that, nothing from my scholarly work appeared in the book. Cardiovascular effects of anaesthetics, gender differences in blood vessels, and plant-based estrogens factoids would have been major turnoffs.

3. Any thought of a sequel? Love to see Vic bust another drug ring!

I have the seed of an idea for another book. Life events since I released Death of the Druggist have curtailed my enthusiasm for it. As is true for everyone, intentions and plans became complicated if not disrupted by our need to respond to the pandemic. If nothing else, I have an excuse for my writing lethargy.

Should I write this second book it most likely will not be a sequel. Vic underwent a character arc as he recovered from his divorce and its consequent career change. Protagonists in a series don’t change. Readers of Conan Doyle, expected Sherlock to be Sherlock.

4. Has there been any interest in turning this into a script? I think it would adapt perfectly.

I have a friend who was a successful script writer. She has become an as yet unpublished fiction writer. She assures me that the skill sets are vastly different.

Not only could I not take on producing a script but also being self-published means that I have no agent to pass it on to someone who might consider such a project.

5. Why do you think not many books are written about pharmacists/pharmacies?

Pharmacists seem to be stereotyped in books, movies and TV broadcasts either as diabolical purveyors of poisons or as the boring uncles or aunts one hopes not to be seated beside at a family gathering.

White jackets aren’t mistaken for capes and cowls. I tried to portray my pharmacist character Vic Fye as a compassionate human. What could be more heroic?

6. In your experience do pharmacists possess the creative/artistic gene? 

Pharmacy students at Drake have long been disproportionately, compared to most other majors on campus, participants in the University band, orchestra, and choruses. A former Assistant Dean of Fine Arts struggled in his decision to abandon pre-medical studies for life as a pianist.

The entrepreneurial programs within the College are robust with a great deal of student interest. I suspect that the drudgery of chain store practice stifles if not molecularly alters such creative/artistic genes.

7. Should the big fish just eat the little fish and be done with it or is there still room/need for the boutique pharmacy operator?

The decline in the numbers of independent/boutique pharmacies is not merely a nostalgic loss. Intimate interactions with patients lead to innovative changes in care that go beyond the motivation for profit. You and I could both cite many such changes originated by and/or championed by independent practitioners.

It was such a pleasure to virtually meet Rick. A gentleman in every sense of the word and his insights into writing, pharmacy and life on campus were all lessons in life.

Rick had an impact on thousands of pharmacy students during his academic career. He has been retired for almost a decade and is now a resident of Venice, Florida.

Death of the Druggist is now available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook formats.

Rick has promised to donate all future royalties from this novel to help support the College’s entrepreneurial initiatives.

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