The Queen of Hearts: A Novel
- By Kimmery Martin
- 352 pp.
- Reviewed by K.L. Romo
- April 3, 2018
When two friends move from medical school to new lives as physicians, they discover their past has followed them.
Years ago, Emma Colley and Zadie Anson became the best of friends at a Kentucky camp for students interested in medicine — they just got each other. Medical school in Louisville was challenging, but Emma and Zadie survived the brutal schedule and lack of sleep by sharing everything: their apartment, their friends, and all their innermost secrets.
Well, almost all of them.
Now Emma and Zadie are doctors at a large hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. Emma is the best trauma surgeon in the area, and Zadie is a pediatric cardiologist working part time. Their lives are stable and happy, each with a loving husband and kids. But just below their complacency lurks a shared history — past intricacies of the heart, as understood by Zadie:
“Mark Twain said this about the human heart: You can’t reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns. This is entirely true…I’ve devoted my professional life to the study of hearts, to their intricate, indefatigable machinery, and to their endless propensity to go awry.”
But the women’s anchored lives are knocked off-kilter when a mesmerizing doctor from their medical-school days joins not only the hospital staff but Emma’s practice.
Nick Xenokostas — enigmatically referred to as Dr. X — was chief resident at the hospital in Louisville all those years ago. His torrid affair with Zadie ended badly, and now his appearance in Charlotte scares the hell out of both Zadie and Emma. What really happened to cause the rift between Nick and Zadie, and what shameful secrets have yet to be uncovered?
Emma knows one thing for sure: She must keep Nick away from Zadie or risk losing her forever:
“I loathed Nick. Not only because of what he had done to Zadie but because he was an incarnate reminder of all my worst failings.”
Emma also fights her own demons, blaming herself for the death of their med-school roommate. And now a bad judgment call during trauma surgery results in a death she’s not sure she can get over. Who was she before the drama of years ago, and who was she after? Who has she become?
“One day, I made a fateful decision that cast my life neatly into two halves: Before and After…my own personal point of no return was not subtle, or gradual, or something I didn’t recognize until it was too late. It was an obvious demarcation, a clean line in the sand. I knew what I was doing when I stepped over it.”
Emma realizes the distinct difference between the grief of loss and the shame of being responsible for it. She knows what she must do to absolve herself of her mistakes, but she’s terrified to admit the deplorable truth behind the misery she caused:
“There is no more debilitating emotion than shame. Even grief has a redeeming clarity and purity to it: you know there is a terrible beauty in loving something so much that its loss nearly ends you. But there is no redeeming quality to shame. It’s ugly.”
Past mysteries and disgrace are interwoven in this exciting tale of professional and personal strength and regret. Zadie and Emma must confront what happened in medical school to move forward with their lives. Emma knows she must finally tell Zadie the truth, but will her overdue honesty threaten their friendship?
“If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s this: the past is never really gone. It’s one long chain linking the present and also the future, and sometimes it doubles back on itself, exposing the things you thought were buried.”
Physician-author Kimmery Martin brings her firsthand knowledge of trauma medicine alive on the pages of this novel, giving readers a glimpse of the courage needed to be a good doctor and the forgiveness needed to be a good friend.
Fans of “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and Erich Segal’s Doctors will love this drama that examines both the strengths and weaknesses in affairs of the heart.
K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: Teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Her historical novel, Life Before, is about two women separated by a century who discover they’ve shared a soul. Find her on Twitter at @klromo.