Under the Knife: A Novel

Under the Knife: A Novel

by Kelly Parsons


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250033338
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

KELLY PARSONS is a board-certified urologist with degrees from Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins, and he is on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. He lives with his family in Southern California.

Read an Excerpt

Under The Knife

By Kelly Parsons

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2017 Kelly Parsons
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-03333-8


One Year Later


There was darkness.

And then there was her name.

"Dr. Wu?"

A voice probed the dark, cleaving it like a searchlight. The darkness was familiar and, in its familiarity, comforting; the voice, intrusive and discordant, was not. Rita drew away from it and embraced the dark, as if she were a little girl pressing herself against her mother's leg.

But the voice would have none of it.

"Dr. Wu?" It was a woman.

Darkness still, but sensations were resolving themselves, bit by bit, from nothing.

"Do you want me to go get some help?" A second voice, also female. Breathier. Huskier.

"No. She's breathing. And she's warm. She's just asleep. Grab some blankets, though, will you?"

"Okay." Receding footsteps. A crisp, artificial click, like someone tugging on the latch of a refrigerator. A puff of warm of air.

... sounds like an operating-room blanket warmer ...

Approaching footsteps. "Got some."

"Dr. Wu?"

A hand was on her shoulder, nudging her toward consciousness. There was a thick, coppery taste in her mouth, as if she'd been sucking on pennies, and a pain in her head, enveloping her left temple and snaking toward her left ear. Without opening her eyes, she perceived that she was lying flat on her back, on a padded surface. Her arms were lying at her sides.

"Dr. Wu?" The hand shaking her shoulder applied more pressure.

Rita opened her eyes. The darkness surrendered itself to blinding brightness. The pain in her head blossomed into an agony — an ice pick driving its way through her left eye and punching its way out the back of her skull.

She gasped. God, how it hurt. The light was a rabid dog clawing at her eyes. She squeezed them shut and groaned. Her stomach lurched, as if the light had reached through her eye sockets, down her throat, and given her gut a good, hard tug.

Oh, God.

"Dr. Wu?" The first voice, which a dim recess of her clouded brain now registered as familiar, sounded worried, but also more insistent. "Are you okay?" Pause. "Can I help you?"

The pain made it difficult for her to concentrate. No, not just the pain. Something else, too. Her brain was a jumbled slurry of inputs and outputs, scrambled up in a way that pain alone could not explain, as if all of her trains of thought had been dumped into a blender at high speed.

Why? some part of her mind asked.

Who cares? another replied.

She let herself slide back toward the void.

"Dr. Wu." Commanding now, and louder. Unconsciousness, inviting as it was, was no longer an option.

Rita opened her eyes and groaned, squinting against the light.

"Wendy," said the first voice. "Move the spotlight out of her face."

"Sure," said the breathy woman.

The light dimmed and, with it, the pain in her head.

Rita blinked and looked at the anxious face peering into hers. In a more alert state, she might have been surprised. Astounded, even. But all she could muster now was a vague sense of puzzlement.

Lisa Rodriguez, one of her operating-room nurses, was the owner of both the first voice and the hand now resting reassuringly on Rita's shoulder. Lisa wasn't, of course, hers in the strict sense of the word. But Rita, like many surgeons, used possessive pronouns to describe people and things in the operating rooms she supervised. Her nurses. Her patients. Her surgical instruments.

Lisa was standing next to her. Or, rather, over her, as if Rita were one of her own patients, stretched out on a table in her operating room, over which she and Lisa traded scalpels and gossip most working days.

What's going on?

Lisa's blunt features, framed by a pale blue surgical cap that corralled her curly black hair, registered equal parts astonishment and concern.

Standing behind her, and to one side, was another woman, also an OR nurse —


— a skinny young woman with a long face. A single tuft of blond hair, glowing with a peroxide lacquer, poked out from underneath her blue cap and tumbled halfway down her forehead. With her puffy, bouffant surgical cap and emaciated frame, she looked like a mop standing on end. She was carrying some folded white blankets, tucked under one of her arms.

Wendy looked just as astonished as Lisa but not nearly as concerned.

In fact, something less seemly seemed to flicker behind Wendy's eyes (pleasure? glee?), which were as blue as her surgical cap and ringed by turquoise eye shadow. Both women were dressed in dark blue scrubs.

Just like the scrubs we wear in the operating room.

"Lisa?" God, she could barely form the word. Her tongue was concrete.

Where am I?

Without sitting up, Rita turned her head to one side and spotted dark floor tiles lying about three feet below her. She turned her head to the other side and saw the same thing. She concluded, dully, that she was lying on some kind of padded surface suspended off the floor at about waist height.

She started to sit up ...

... but something circling her chest, something flat and broad, seized her and yanked her back down again.


The rear of her head snapped down on the padded mat. Ouch! The impact worsened her headache, and she moved her hands up to cradle her aching forehead.

Or tried to.

But she couldn't.

Because her arms were pinned to her sides.


A new emotion. Not panic — her senses were still too blunted to generate panic — but Rita felt an abrupt unease that raised her from one level of semiconsciousness to a slightly-less-semi one; and she perceived, for the first time, that she lacked all control over her current situation. Rita hated not being in control. Ever. She struggled to free her arms.

"Here," Lisa said. "Let me help you, Dr. Wu."

She watched as Lisa, in one smooth motion, reached down to Rita's side and grasped a shiny metallic buckle through which wound a black band. It looked like an enormous seat belt. Lisa lifted the buckle and loosened the black band, which was pinning Rita's torso and arms to the foam pads she was lying on.

Funny, Rita thought, as Lisa pulled the band free from the buckle and freed her from the pads. It looks just like the restraining straps we use to secure patients to our operating-room tables.

Another coincidence. Like the blue scrubs.

A moment later, as Lisa loosened a second black strap binding her thighs, Rita realized, with an uneasy swirl of emotions, that it was one of the restraining straps for an operating-room table.

The same table on which she was now lying.

"What?" Rita straightened her head and tipped her chin to her chest to stare at her feet.

That was when she noticed she wasn't wearing any clothes.

Dr. Rita Wu, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of California, was strapped to an operating-room table.

Naked as the day she was born.

Without the faintest idea of how she'd gotten there.


Spencer Cameron stepped outside, closed his front door, and breathed in the early-morning air of late November in coastal San Diego. It was still dark, but faint red-and-orange embers licked the sky behind the mountains to the east.

The predawn temperatures were cool, and Spencer wore black, full-length running tights with fluorescent-yellow reflectors stitched down the sides and a lightweight, black athletic shirt equipped with similar reflectors along its long sleeves. The skintight fabric strained against his massive chest, shoulders, and thighs as he stretched out his limbs and torso. He slipped headphones in his ears, tuned his iPod to NPR, and adjusted his knit running beanie over his curly, dark brown hair so as to shield the exposed portions of his ears and scalp from the mild chill. He took off at an easy jog down the street.

A stout, middle-aged woman walking a small brown dog of indeterminate breed appeared, heading in the opposite direction. She jumped back and froze as Spencer lumbered toward her. The dog, in contrast, seemed to decide that the best defense was a good offense: No larger than a good-sized rabbit, it lunged at him, drawing its leash taunt and yipping in the high, piercing frequency of small dogs.

Spencer stifled a scowl — he didn't love dogs, especially microscopic ones that disturbed the peace of his early-morning runs — but waved gamely.

See? I'm friendly!

He didn't recognize the woman or her dog. But that wasn't unexpected. Although he'd lived here for years, there were plenty of folks in the neighborhood he hadn't yet gotten around to meeting. His grueling work schedule — early mornings, late nights, and long days sandwiched between them — didn't make it easy.

"Good morning!" he called, flashing a cheery smile.

The woman, bundled in a bulky grey sweatshirt embroidered with a University of Southern California logo, acknowledged him with a slight nod but remained rooted in place and looked at him askance as he passed, holding her dog at bay. Furious, the dog scrambled along the perimeter of its leash, growling truculently and straining in vain to launch itself at Spencer.

In a parting gesture of amity, he cut the woman and her dog an extrawide berth, smiling and waving one last time, before refocusing on his run. He didn't blame the woman — or her pet rat, for that matter — one bit. Even in broad daylight, his immense frame routinely attracted curious stares, and he pictured how he must have appeared from their perspective: a man big enough to be an NFL lineman, clad in black and wearing a knit skullcap, charging at them out of the early-morning shadows of an otherwise deserted street.

Aside from the dog lady, the neighborhood was still, and he was alone. As his muscles limbered up, he pushed the pace, accelerating to a brisk trot. He needed to. He was still in pretty decent shape, but it had never been easy for him to keep the paunch at bay, even back in the old days, and it was only getting harder now that he was closing in on forty.

He swerved to the left to avoid a row of trash cans at the curb, changing his heading by pushing off with his right leg. His right knee protested with a twinge of discomfort that fell just short of outright pain. That knee had been acting up recently.

Should probably get it looked at.

A sagging midline and creaky joints.

Old-man problems.

In his headphones, a newscaster was recapping the morning's headlines: bland iterations of the ones from the day before, with little or no bearing on his life. The newscaster's voice faded into so much white noise. His mind wandered.

Forty years old.

Had it really snuck up on him this quickly? That was the problem with being a doctor: By the time you soldiered through your education and training, and finally found a real job, it was practically time to retire. All told, his own training had taken him, what ... twelve years? But he loved neurosurgery, from the time he was a kid he'd wanted to be a brain surgeon, so his sacrifices had always struck him as irrelevant. He didn't even think of them as sacrifices. They were choices, his choices, and he didn't regret them. He didn't believe in second guesses. Monday morning quarterbacking was worthless.

And yet.

Second guesses and doubts were what lately had been slipping into his head. They nibbled at his psyche, exhorted him to reconsider some of his irrational life choices. The ones he'd made in his love life.

The ones about Rita.

But what wasn't irrational about love?

It had been nearly a year now, one year since she'd clawed his heart out of his chest for no apparent reason other than that she could. People said time healed all wounds. What a crock. Time healed nothing. But was a year time enough, if not for healing, to at least accept the way things were? To acknowledge that Rita really was done with him and for him to move on with his life?


Spencer couldn't help but envy his friends who'd shifted smoothly into the next phases of their lives. Sometimes, alone late at night on his phone, after a few beers, Spencer would scroll through pictures of his friends' young families on Facebook. There were always firsts. Lots of them. First smile. First steps. First day of ballet class. First day of soccer. First day of school.

Spencer, single and sad and loyal, pointed and clicked, liking each and every one.


But wait. He had his freedom. Right? He could do whatever the hell he wanted, whenever the hell he wanted. He wasn't tied down. He didn't have a steady girlfriend. He got to play the field. He was living the dream. Right? Isn't that what all guys were supposed to want?

After all, forty was when the other guys who'd settled down were supposed to flip into midlife-crisis mode. Rage against conformity. Ditch the wife and kids. Have a fling with a pretty little thing just this side of statutory. Buy a really cool car. Wear skinny jeans.

But Spencer liked conformity. He craved normality. He went to church on Sunday; paid his taxes every April; visited his parents back in their small town in Washington State every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter; bought Girl Scout cookies once a year from the uniformed girls staked out in front of the supermarket, then bought some more from their mothers selling them at work. These things made him happy.

Nor was he the kind of guy who'd ever run out on a family. He'd be grateful to have a family. What he wouldn't give to post pictures on Facebook of his own smiling, walking, dancing, soccer-playing, school-age children.

He could indulge himself in an attractive young woman, he supposed. He was a good-looking guy — he wasn't vain about it, or anything, but it presented certain advantages he wasn't going to ignore. He lived and worked near the local college, so there were plenty of nubile coeds running around. One lithe, flirtatious barista at his neighborhood Starbucks, with glorious coffee-colored eyes and sheets of lustrous chocolaty hair, had made her intentions pretty clear. But she looked like she was barely out of her teens, if that. She belonged with a guy her own age.

And the really cool car? Well, that would just be plain irresponsible. Why waste that kind of money? He was perfectly happy with his nice, practical, environmentally sound Toyota Prius, thanks.

And trendy skinny jeans were not an option. Even if he had the inclination to try to squeeze into a pair, which he most certainly did not, his thighs were each as big around as a tree trunk.

That's all great, Spencer. Good for you. So, let me in on a little secret, Dudley Do-Right: If you're such a boring, stand-up citizen, what the hell are you doing stalking your ex-girlfriend? The one who told you she wants nothing more to do with you?

He gritted his teeth.

It's not stalking, he answered himself. Not really.

Is it?

He was sweating now, and his scalp itched underneath his knit cap. His chest and legs burned, but it was a pleasant burn. There was a nice onshore breeze, rich and moist, carrying with it the scent of the Pacific, half a mile away. He inhaled deeply, savoring it, timing it with the controlled breathing of his run.

A car turned onto the street ahead. It accelerated away from him, careening from one side of the street to the other, coughing newspapers from its open passenger-side window, the driver a dark silhouette.

Spencer, who preferred to read his news on his phone, didn't understand the appeal of newspapers, which were supposed to have gone the way of the dodo by now. It astonished him how many of his neighbors still insisted on having one delivered. The final payload, tossed to a home just short of an intersection at which the car cornered hard to the left before speeding away, fell short of the driveway, landing in the gutter.

The home was a cozy, Mediterranean-style one-story with native Southern California landscaping and cheerful red-ceramic roof tiles. On his morning runs, Spencer always passed by it; on days he didn't run, he altered his driving route to include this street, just to drive by it, even though other routes were faster.

Because it was Rita's house.

He sighed to himself.

So maybe it was stalking. Kind of.

He frowned.

Something about Rita's house this morning felt wrong.


"Lisa," Rita croaked. Rita hugged herself and struggled to sit up. She felt something small and cold and metallic, hanging on a chain from her neck, knock against her bare chest.

Her father's dog tags.

So she wasn't completely naked.

She lurched to one side, almost toppling off the table.

"Careful." Lisa grabbed her by the arm and helped her to a sitting position. "Hey, Wendy." The blond-haired nurse was standing a few feet away, still holding the folded blankets and gaping at Rita. "Wendy."

"What?" Wendy asked distractedly.

Rita's teeth began to chatter.

"The blankets, Wendy."

"Oh. Right. The blankets." She handed both blankets to Lisa, oblivious to Lisa's glare.

Lisa snapped each blanket open with a practiced flick of her wrists, then wrapped one around Rita's shoulders and chest and the other across her midsection.


Excerpted from Under The Knife by Kelly Parsons. Copyright © 2017 Kelly Parsons. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
One Year Later,
Also by Kelly Parsons,
About the Author,

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Under the Knife 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having read this authors debut novel "doing harm" I was eagerly awaiting the next one. I sure was not dissapointed!!!!! A lot of medical and a little si-fi made for an awesome read. This author is the real deal. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "page turner". Highly recommend. WARNING: be prepared to lose sleep once you start this, because you won't want to put it down. Keep em coming Mr. Parsons. PLEASE!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One thing I liked about this book is a lot of medical information is explained along with the story. The story is definitely different and the ending is well done.
StevenW0 More than 1 year ago
I was eagerly awaiting Under The Knife as Doing Harm was a wonderful debut novel. I am rating this novel 2.5 stars ( 2 stars is below average and 3 stars is good) because I felt the story was only average. The plot was too far-fetched for my liking. The situation with Finney and Sebastian was a bit unreal, but the technical or medical advancements could certainly happen in the near future. Not really sure I will read Kelly's third book.
whatsbetterthanbooks More than 1 year ago
Intelligent, fast-paced and creepy! In this new novel by Parsons we’re once again submerged in an incredibly detailed, medical thrill-ride that not only demonstrates his ability to write a well crafted, edge-of-your-seat mystery but also highlights his first-hand knowledge of the terminology and lifestyle of being a surgeon. The writing is well done. The plot is an action-packed tale full of revenge, guilt, moral dilemmas and spine-chilling medical advancements. And the characters, even the villainous one, are intelligent, successful, troubled and developed in such a way you can’t help but empathize with them. Overall, I would have to say that this is a highly entertaining, captivating read that is perfect fans of Robin Cook and Michael Palmer.
ReadingwithPugs More than 1 year ago
I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was a creepy medical thriller about a man who is seeking revenge on the doctor that he believes was responsible for the death of his wife. The thing that stood out to me the most was just how utterly real this could actually be one day. Without spoiling anything I will say that although the technology used might be a little advanced right now, I believe it is possible for it to be a real thing in the future. The lengths that he went to, to drive this doctor insane were methodically evil. I really enjoyed this fast paced, edge of your seat thriller and will look forward to reading more by Kelly Parsons.