Like many busy people in need of a break, Del Mar resident Richard Brown likes to unwind with a good suspense novel. Nothing like a healthy dose of mayhem to help you shrug off the cares of the day.
But when the local orthopaedic surgeon turns to thrillers between stints in the operating room, he isn’t reading them.
He’s writing them.
“I always have 20 or 30 minutes between cases, and writing is relaxing,” Brown said from his office at Torrey Pines Orthopaedic Medical Group in Del Mar. “It’s definitely fun. Then you go through your third of fourth edit, and then it’s not as fun.”
Then again, after that third or fourth edit, sometimes you end up with a book.
Brown is the author of the 2018 medical thriller “Scalpel’s Cut,” and its sequel, “Scalpel’s Plunge: The End of the Party,” which came out late last year.
Both self-published books follow the hair-raising, life-threatening adventures of Dr. Eric “VJ” Brio, a Boston-based orthopaedic surgeon who takes on sinister organizations with nail-biting results.
Both books mix high-stakes action and page-turning cliffhangers with detailed accounts of tricky operations, grisly injuries and Byzantine bureaucracies that you do not have to be a medical professional to appreciate.
And when someone buys a copy of either book, the proceeds do not go to the author.
Instead, all “Scalpel’s” spoils go to Doctors Without Borders, a global nonprofit group that sends emergency medical aid to people in crisis.
Spurred by his Jewish heritage and the horrors of World War II, Brown began donating to the organization during the war in Darfur. After the war broke out in 2003, villages were burned and pillaged, and hundreds of thousands of people died. When “Scalpel’s Cut” came out, Brown figured that his literary debut would be another way to help.
He was right.
Since the release of “Scalpel’s Cut” three years ago, Brown and his books have generated more than $55,000 in donations for Doctors Without Borders. Some of the money comes from book sales, while the rest was donated to the organization through Brown’s online fundraising campaign.
Brown gives free copies to friends, patients and pretty much anyone who wants to check out VJ’s exploits, and each copy comes with a bookmark talking about Doctors Without Borders and suggesting a donation of $25. It’s a suggestion many readers have taken to heart.
“A lot of these people are physicians I’ve known since medical school or from fellowships, and all of us can relate to what Doctors Without Borders does. A lot of them are patients, who see the placards (for the books) in the lobby and want to help out,” said the 61-year-old Brown, who is the father of three grown children.
“I’m fortunate enough to take care of a lot of people who are very generous. As a consequence of that, the book has been a really nice pathway to introduce people to Doctors Without Borders and stimulate donations.”
While Brown’s books do a lot of good, you can’t say the same for all of the people in them.
Within the first few pages of “Scalpel’s Cut,” one man gets busy with a butcher’s knife, and another man ends up in desperate need of our hero’s surgical expertise. The opening scene of “Scalpel’s Plunge” finds Dr. Brio himself on the wrong end of yet another knife.
In “Scalpel’s Cut,” VJ runs afoul of the Cooperative, a bad-news operation dedicated to committing medical fraud and doing damage to anyone who gets in its way. In “Scalpel’s Plunge,” he tangles with the Foundation, a bunch of well-funded villains wreaking havoc on a global scale.
And whether it is goons with knives or corporate killers with agendas, lives are in danger, blood is spilled, and VJ is faced with enough worst-case medical scenarios to have his YouTube channel. All of it courtesy of a doctor who discovered that real life has the stuff page-turners are made of.
“In the first book, a hand surgeon got four fingers cut off, but what really happened was a drug deal went wrong, and I had to deal with that,” said Brown, who grew up in Atlanta and got his medical degree at the Duke University School of Medicine. He did his surgical internship and residency at University of California San Diego, and also did a fellowship Massachusetts General Hospital.
“In Boston, the Mafia was very active. This was during the time of (organized crime boss) Whitey Bulger, so I had some exposure to some things during my training. Every medical thing in both books happened. Every single one. Some of it happened to friends and colleagues, but most of it happened to me.”
That tricky elbow shrapnel injury in “Scalpel’s Plunge”? That really happened. The poor, unfortunate soul who literally lost their head in a car accident? Brown can vouch for that, too.
But what he can’t quite believe is that the book idea he began cooking up more than 30 years ago became an actual book. Also that his first book led to a second book, and that his second book will be followed by a third.
He is working on “Scalpel’s Mark: No Secrets” right now. This one will be set partly in Israel and also in a fictional town based on Mammoth Lakes, where Brown has a part-time practice.
And since the plot will involve the CIA and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the intrepid Dr. VJ Brio will once again be up to his well-trained eyeballs in medical emergencies and global intrigue. All he has to do is wait for the busy Dr. Richard Brown to have a few spare minutes and access to his laptop.
Let the adventure begin.
“There will be some evil corporations and some evil Russians. There will be a terrorist bombing that will have to be dealt with from a medical standpoint,” Brown said. “I keep my laptop with me all the time, and when I’ve got time, I write.”
For information on Richard Brown’s books and his Doctors Without Borders fundraising campaign, go to scalpelscut.com