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Black Flies by Shannon Burke

Black Flies by Shannon Burke is a masterpiece of characterization and plot. Burke, a former paramedic in Harlem, New York, weaves his disjointed plot through a series of in-depth characterizations and vivid event descriptions. He traces the steps rookie Ollie Cross takes as he tries to fit in with the Station 18 crew and still hold onto his dreams of medical school, and along the way he spirals out of control, only to emerge on the other side of a black hole with his first save and a sense of purpose.

Ollie is green according to the other paramedics in his unit, simply because he wants to save lives and is gung-ho about his job. Rutkovsky is assigned as his partner, and he’s a hard-nosed paramedic with a military past. LaFontaine is the department nut, while Verdis is his foil, interested in following the book and attending each patient with courtesy and care. Hatsuru is often in the background with a medical text in his hand while they await the next call or are on lunch break, and Marmol and Rivett round out the rest of the crew.

Ollie joins the paramedic unit to gain experience while he studies for the MCATs, hoping to improve his scores and get into medical school. Amidst high crime rates, homelessness, and rampant drug use in the streets of Harlem, these medical professionals strive to save the lives of people some would say are unworthy of saving. This novel examines the struggle these paramedics face daily, regarding split-second decisions that could either save drug addicts who will only end up back on the street strung out or ending their misery by refusing to treat them. The moral imperative driving these paramedics to save lives is constantly tested on the streets.

One fateful event in the novel pushes one of these paramedics over the edge, causing him to lose everything, while leaving the remaining paramedics to rationalize his decision and examine their own moral compass to determine whether that decision is something they all agree with or something that casts a shadow over all of their medical decisions and actions. In a way this decision becomes like so many black flies hovering over Ollie and the rest of the station.

Check out the excerpts from Black Flies, here.

I want to thank Anna at Diary of an Eccentric for recommending this book. It was a great, fast paced read. I’m thinking about picking up Burke’s other novel, Safelight.

Also Reviewed By:
Diary of an Eccentric