An RN Written Mystery Series That's Great and Unusual

A number of nurses have tried their hand at writing mysteries. Some like Echo Heron have succeeded but quit. Some haven’t. And one has done very well. Except that he hasn’t chosen a nurse as his private detective, he’s actually chosen a union shop steward who also happens to be a hospital custodian. At first glance, casting a union steward as an amateur detective who solves mysteries may sound a bit far fetched. But think about it: a good steward is a savvy investigator who looks into an incident. The steward examines physical evidence, interviews witnesses, and looks over past practices for precedents. A union advocate is one part “jailhouse lawyer” and one part pit bull. A hospital custodian is also a good choice for a detective. Why? Because a custodian is everywhere in the hospital. Because custodians are sometimes invisible, they also see and hear things because people – particularly people who think they are above it all, which often includes doctors, but also some nurses – just don’t pay attention to the fact that they are human beings, with eyes, ears and yes, functioning brains. The choice of hospital custodian also allows us to view characters who play a significant role in the workings of a hospital that professionals similarly consider to be invisible or “mindless” workers. (In this way Sheard, who is in fact, an ICU nurses, remedies some of the ill manners of some of his fellow RNs in this regard).

All of this and more makes Tim Sheard’s fresh and feisty fictional detective so delightful. Sheard takes the work of a good, savvy steward who has free access to every nook and cranny of the hospital and transforms it into a character who solves murders.

Here’s how the stories start out. A worker in Sheard’s fictional hospital in Philadelphia is arrested or is being sought for murder. The workers all know the accused is innocent, so they ask their favorite steward, Lenny Moss, to track down the killer. After all, he fixes all their other problems; surely he can root out a murderer.

In the first book, This Won’t Hurt A Bit, the accused worker is Regis Devoe, a hot-tempered young African-American man who works in the laundry. As regis leaves work one day, the security guard demands to search his bag while allowing a white physician to exit without being searched. Why? Because Regis is guilty of “walking while black,” while the doctor is white.

Regis starts an argument with the doctor. The next day the doctor disappears, only to be discovered dead a week later in a most embarrassing situation. Naturally, the cops arrest Regis.

Knowing that multi-racial solidarity is the key to any labor campaign, Lenny enlists the help of his friends: ward clerks, office secretaries, dietary aides, a young nurse and a friendly doctor. Together they uncover the clues and bring the killer to justice. Along the way they fight several battles on the job for safe working conditions.

Sheard’s stories draw readers into the thick of things and keep them enthralled all the way to the end. Because he’s an RN, he knows all the appropriate hospital lingo and hurls it around in a way that gives the series not only heft but authenticity. Plus, he comes up with an excellent ending. Unlike the traditional “hero” who goes one-on-one with the killer, Lenny ends up on the ropes but is saved when his friends rush to his defense. The solidarity of the hospital workers saves the day, so the message is not one about the virtues of a lone superhero.

The second book, Some Cuts Never Heal, opens with Lenny pulling off a joke on the administration that gets him and his co-workers in big trouble. To save their jobs, he has to uncover the person who murdered a beautiful drug rep, who may have been conspiring with a greedy doctor to cook the results of a drug trial. Or was she an innocent victim?

The third, A Race Against Death, finds a cold-hearted obstetrics doctor butchering young black women from a poor section of Philadelphia while performing abortions. When one of the women dies a horrible death, angry workers ask Lenny to investigate. The book is, however, hardly a doctor-basher because Lenny joins forces with a courageous African-American medical student, president of the medical students of color. Together they pursue the physician, even though things don’t turn out quite the way they expected. And along the way Lenny battles the administration on behalf of the laundry workers, who are passing out due to the terrible heat wave that leaves the basement laundry as hot as a furnace.

The forth book, Slim To None, finds the fictional James Madison Hospital operating a string of spas & exercise gyms for a profit, even though they are a “non-profit” business. When Lenny tries to organize the workers at the spas, he is brutally attacked. Another murder draws Lenny and his friends into a new case. This time Lenny suffers some horrific injuries. But once again his friends step in and pull him from the jaws of death.

The next Lenny Moss book, So Many Ways To Die, will be released in September, 2011. All the books present working class men and women in an honest, realistic light. They aren’t perfect; they have their flaws. But they are all good-hearted, courageous people fighting every day for dignity and a fair paycheck. In fact, Lenny Moss is inspired by the 35-year career of a dedicated 1199 steward who has recently retired. All of the struggles on the wards come from his lifelong commitment to his co-workers.

In addition to writing great novels, Tim Sheard also teaches blue collar workers how to write their stories and how to publish them. He is an activist with the National Writers Union, a progressive union of freelance writers. Sheard offers free workshops in person or by video to union and college classes that use his books. He also organized free summer writing programs through the union.

And, not happy with the few pennies that the big publishers paid him for his first four books, he has brought all of his books back into print under his own imprint, Hard Ball Press. His long term goal is to bring back into print long lost working class writers. Look for them later in 2011. So purchase the novels directly from Sheard’s website,, and the author will keep the 40% cut that Amazon or Barnes & Noble takes. If you cut out the middlemen and buy from the artist, he’ll send you an autographed copy.

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