A Straight-ahead Debut Thriller

Kerr Handles the Courtroom Scenes with Savvy  

By Chris Petrakos. The Chicago Tribune.

After vowing never to take another medical malpractice suit, attorney Peter Moss meets a case that he can't turn down in this straight-ahead debut thriller by Baine Kerr. Single mother Terry Winter is dying of breast cancer after her physician, Dr. Wallace Bondurant, treated her for three years without recommending treatment for the lump that was growing on her breast.

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For Moss the stakes are high: He has already lost an earlier malpractice suit involving Bondurant, who was accused of misprescribing medication for a young girl, and Moss is looking for justice. Bondurant, in the meantime, has become head of the Colorado state medical society as well as starting a support group for doctors who have been sued.

Despite Moss' earlier loss, the partners at his law firm give him the green light for what looks like a sure-win case. Of course, it doesn't turn out that way. Terry Winter takes off with her kid, her husband starts making problems for Moss, and Bondurant's barracuda of an attorney throws some surprises in Moss' direction.

This is a pretty strong first novel, as Kerr handles the courtroom scenes with savvy and comes up with enough plot twists to keep readers guessing all the way to the end. With so many legal thrillers crowding the shelves, it would be a shame if suspense fans overlooked this one.

You Ought to Read This

Medical Thriller Captures the Spirit of the Legal Genre

By Ann M. Sato. The Honolulu Advertiser.

Though the book jacket calls it a “medical thriller,” this first novel fits neatly into the legal genre dominated by John Grisham, Scott Turow, Philip Margolin, and the like. Their stage is the courtroom, their language the stilted specificity of the law, and their star is a lawyer with a conscience (perhaps because so many people consider this a rare breed).

Kerr does a tricky thing here. He makes a hero out of a medical malpractice lawyer at a time when “medical malpractice” is considered a multi-syllable swear word. ...

"Kerr does a tricky thing here. He makes a hero out of a medical malpractice lawyer ... "

Grisham can’t write as well as he can plot. Turow’s last effort misses the mark. Margolin is stuck in a formula. But Kerr, a short-story writer who has been the recipient of a fiction fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an Editors’ Prize from the Missouri Review, is skilled beyond these because he can write.

He can recreate the patter of lawyers at work: “Don’t go with a virgin is my advice,” says Moss’ partner. “... Virgins are cavers.”

Read the entire review.

Puts Boulder on the Map for Mystery Lovers

By Tom and Enid Schantz, Mystery Columnists. The Denver Post.

Boulder medical malpractice attorney Baine Kerr has written a first novel, Harmful Intent, which should put Boulder on the map for mystery lovers, right next to Stephen White's psychologist Alan Gregory books and Marianne Wesson's legal thriller Render Up the Body.

Baine Kerr

Baine Kerr

Kerr's protagonist is medical malpractice lawyer Peter Moss, who, despite a successful career and a loving wife, finds himself burned out and disillusioned with his profession when he returns to Boulder from a six-month sabbatical in Costa Rica. But when Terry Winter, a young mother with terminal breast cancer, seeks his help in suing her family doctor for inexplicably failing to send her to a specialist until it was too late, he begins to feel hopeful again.

Moss is all too familiar with Dr. Bondurant, having lost another major malpractice suit against him not very long ago, and he's eager to even the score. As he researches Terry's story, it begins to look like a case they can't lose, and he feels the desire to see justice done stirring in him again. ...

[...] the book really comes alive when Terry, a funky mountain woman who dresses like a ranch hand and possesses a defiant courage in the face of death, takes over.

Terry's love of her daughter is unconventional and unyielding, and the scenes in which she dominates are like a gust of fresh air in a stuffy room.

Read the entire review.


Harmful for Page-Turning Addicts

By Anne Dingus. Texas Monthly.

Harmful Intent by Baine Kerr is so good that you hope the author gives up law to write full-time. Attorney Peter Moss agrees to represent a woman whose physician failed to diagnose her breast cancer, and the doctor in question is a man against whom the lawyer once lost a horrifying case. Kerr, a former Houstonian, shores up the plot with switchbacks and fascinating medicalese. If you’re fighting page-turning addiction, Harmful Intent will do you no good.

As cool as anything from a James Bond movie or a Le Carré novel, rendered with the staccato rhythms of a Hemingway novel

Cameron Stracher. American Lawyer.

... Kerr' s Harmful Intent never sacrifices the author's voice for the sake of plot (an unnecessary trade-off in any case, except that it takes time to craft an elegant sentence). Look at this example of Kerr's vivid prose:

He passed west through a big open country strewn about with stuff. Industrial parks, pastures caked with snow. Green Burlington Northern engines parked on a spur. Tractorless trailers arranged in a lot. Cottonwoods strung along washes, apart and ramiform against an orange sunset, complex black images of strength. The backlit rolling ridge line and dark denticled folds of the range and above the range, splitting a seemingly colorfast sky, twisted contrails—simulacra of disaster.

It's no surprise to learn that before he wrote his legal thriller, Kerr's book of literary short stories won him a prestigious fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He's a writer who never lets his knowledge of the law intrude on his writing skills. A scene of forensic handwriting analysis is as cool as anything from a James Bond movie or a Le Carré novel, while rendered with the staccato rhythms of a Hemingway novel.

"Baine Kerr's Harmful Intent was the bellringer for me this year among novels by other lawyers about the law."

  -- Scott Turow, Authors' Favorites 1999, Mystery and Thrillers on Amazon.com

Crackling Suspense, Compelling Moral Problems

Kirkus Reviews.

Kerr grabs the brass ring in this first novel about a medical malpractice suit that takes every turn you can imagine, and some you can’t. “MALPRACTICA NO MAS,” Peter Moss promises himself obsessively after his half-year escape from his Boulder partnership to Costa Rica. But try as he might, he can’t walk away from Terry Winter’s suit against Dr. Wallace Bondurant. It isn’t just that her trusted family physician continued to treat Terry and her daughter Emmy for three years without ever recommending treatment for the lump Terry had noticed in her breast; Moss is still smarting from his failure to get a judgment against Bondurant in an earlier lawsuit. ….

Kerr delivers exactly what legal-intrigue fans crave: crackling suspense up top, compelling moral problems floating beneath the surface with an iceberg’s menace.

Read the entire review. 

Kerr’s Mastery of Litigation Tactics and Complex Medical Issues Shines

By Stephen M. Murphy in What if Holden Caulfield Went to Law School? 

For the plot of his first novel, [Baine] Kerr turned to his own cases, writing a polished and suspenseful book that bears the imprint of an experienced novelist. Harmful Intent traces the prosecution of a medical malpractice case for failure to diagnose breast cancer. In less skilled hands, the plot could have become pedantic and predictable. But Kerr creates compelling characters, starting with plaintiff’s attorney Peter Moss, who had soured on malpractice cases.

“After fifteen years of his doing little else, malpractice cases remained too hard to win; they cost too much; and winning meant too little. Settlements were confidential, the client was still as maimed or dead, and the practice and malpractice of medicine would proceed unedified.”

The case seems solid until strange things start to happen. His expert melts down at his deposition; then his client disappears just before trial.

When Terry Winters consults Moss complaining of mistreatment by Moss’s old adversary Dr. Wallace Bondurant, Moss decides to take another shot at a malpractice case. Winters is accompanied by her precocious twelve-year-old daughter, Emmy, who is also Bondurant’s patient. Moss instantly takes a liking to both Terry and Emmy. As he digs deeper into the case, his motivation alternates between empathy for his client and enmity for the defendant. The case seems solid until strange things start to happen. His expert melts down at his deposition; then his client disappears just before trial.

Kerr’s mastery of litigation tactics and complex medical issues shines throughout Harmful Intent. Through Moss’s arguments to the jury, Kerr explains in simple terms the concept of legal causation.

“In breast cancer, Moss told his juries, there is a magic day. There is a day when a woman goes to sleep with a treatable illness and wakes up with incurable cancer. The outcome of a cancer case should turn on a fundamentally simple calculation: Did the doctor’s negligence in failing to find detectable cancer happen while the patient’s magic day still lay ahead of her? If so, the doctor is responsible for all the harm the cancer will cause.”

Kerr also presents the defense arguments in a humorous way, exposing their fallacies. “In closing, Moss would ridicule it all as the Three Dog Defense: Bondurant doesn’t have a dog. But if he did have a dog he wouldn’t bite anyone. But if he did bite someone he must have been crazy.

the story grabs, the plot is believable, and the characters are human

William Beatty. Booklist.

"Moss was restless, and restless lawyers cause trouble." Peter Moss vowed never to take another medical malpractice case after being defeated by Dr. Wallace Bondurant in a case involving a young girl. Vows being what they are, though, he takes on Bondurant patient Terry Winter, nearing the final stages of breast cancer because of a missed diagnosis. Terry and daughter Emma regularly saw Bondurant together because they got a family rate; Terry went in examining room A, and Emma into B, the children's room with a neat clown on the wall and a happy mirror. Moss has to ferret out and clue-in experts, always voiding Dr. Angelike Franzblan (the Carcinoma Angel) and other medico-legal parasites, to make the case. Kerr tells a fascinating story of relationships, medical ethics, and behind-the-scenes legal and courtroom activities. This is a fine job of a first novel (the tracing of Bondurant's changes to Terry's chart is particularly riveting), for the story grabs, the plot is believable, and the characters are human.