Book Review: The Baby Doctor

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Author: Fiona McArthur
ISBN: 978-0-14-379984-9
Copy courtesy of Penguin (2017)

“The Baby Doctor” comes with absolutely no surprises, but it’s a warm and engaging novel that most readers will thoroughly enjoy. It’s largely a romance, but is framed around an interesting and unusual mystery.

Sienna is a highly successful doctor, an ob/gyn who’s not only seeing patients but running a department at a Sydney hospital. She’s very much a city girl and she knows it. Unfortunately her sister’s mother in law, Blanche, has little regard for either Sienna’s career or her dislike of the outback. Wielding a generous donation to the hospital as a weapon, she drags Sienna from Sydney to the back of beyond to solve a medical mystery.

The mystery is intriguing, and a little unusual. A cluster of babies have been born with microcephaly, and Blanche wants to know why. A good obstetrician, one with drive and excellent research skills, is required to solve the problem. Solving the mystery is high stakes; it can’t help the babies already born, but it might be able to prevent any more birth defects. It’s a problem that engages the reader emotionally even though the babies and their distressed families are not put on show to a great extent. This works; although McArthur certainly conveys the distress of the situation effectively, I think if the women and their babies had been “present” to a greater degree, it might have come across as manipulative.

the baby doctor

I really enjoyed this element of the novel – a serious problem, seriously addressed, which provides a driver for Sienna and a reason for her to be in Spinifex, but which doesn’t take over the lives of every character.

Spinifex, where Sienna finds herself based for the research, does have attractions. Most notably Douglas, the rural policeman that Sienna’s been having a kind of romance with. There’s no future to it though; Douglas is as firmly rooted in the country as Sienna is in the city, and both know and understand that they wouldn’t be happy in each other’s worlds.

We also meet Alma and Madison. Alma runs the local pub where Sienna also stays. Madison is the young woman who helps Alma at the pub and winds up doing some administrative work for Sienna. Both have their own problems to deal with.

This is not a novel with any particular surprises. Plot points are telegraphed well and truly in advance, often repeatedly, and at no point did anything take me off guard. Still, there’s a warmth to this that will particularly appeal to romance readers and will tend to engage even more cynical readers.

“The Baby Doctor” will be most successful with readers who enjoy character based novels. All of the characters are very vivid, and they’re a little unusual for characters I’d expect to find in what is, in many ways, a rural romance. They’re believable, and McArthur makes even an outlandish decision or two very credible.

As an aside, in the closing pages I found myself noting some small but significant similarities to the novel “One Summer with Friends” by Trish Morey. It amused me to see in the author afterword that she shared a research trip with Ms Morey – clearly some of the same things struck them.

This is a really enjoyable novel that doesn’t break any new ground but is a really good read. McArthur writes easily and I found the novel a very quick but entertaining read. Plenty of readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the lives of these believable and appealing characters. This is particularly recommended for those who like rural romances.

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