The Bookworm: A medical mystery and a doggy whodunit

Terri Schlichenmeyer


  • By Elizabeth Katkin, afterword by Dr. Joel Batzofin
  • c. 2018, Simon & Schuster 
  • $26, $35 Canada; 299 pages

The lights are off in that room. You can’t bear to go in there anyhow. There’s no reason, nobody to comfort, no tiny hands to stroke, no soft little cheeks. Infertility struck again and you blame yourself, but you shouldn’t. Instead, you should read “Conceivability” by Elizabeth Katkin.

Just 30 years old when she married, Elizabeth Katkin figured she and her husband, Richard, would take a little time for travel and fine dining before they’d start a family. She envisioned that by the time she was in her mid-30s, she’d be a mother at least once, maybe more. No problems.

"Conceivability" by Elizabeth Katkin, afterword by Dr. Joel Batzofin

But there were problems. Katkin had trouble getting pregnant, enough to send her to an M.D., then to fertility experts, then to an acupuncturist whose treatments were successful and Katkin got pregnant.

Alas, soon after her first ultrasound, she miscarried.

A lawyer by profession and unwilling to take “no” for an answer, Katkin threw herself into researching her infertility and what she could do about it.  Richard, also a lawyer, had moved the family to London by then, so Katkin found a fertility specialist there, and then another and another. In years to come, she would consult specialists in the Middle East, Russia and many in the U.S. For months, she took a commonly-prescribed fertility medication. She endured several rounds of IVF, the shots, implantations, and the agonized waiting. The couple explored the odd legalities of surrogacy and egg donation. Romantic encounters, she said, became clinical.

"Conceivability" author Elizabeth Katkin.

“During the course of my journey,” she says, “I had an opportunity to explore nearly every option.”

Ultimately, there were two happy endings but that journey had its eye-opening moments. Katkin came to believe that many of the procedures she had and the medications she took may have actually “hindered” her fertility. Using a surrogate to have a baby is fraught with loopholes and contradictory laws – never mind if you’re a same-sex couple, which sometimes means even more rules. And no matter what getting-pregnant method you choose, it’s expensive. Very expensive.

For many readers, “Conceivability” won’t look like much more than tales of medical visits and frustration. Those pages contain more alphabet-letters than a board game and if you tote up money and international travel in your head as you read, you’ll see that this book’s maybe a stetch out-of-touch on that front.

And if those were your only thoughts, this book is not for you.

Instead, for women suffering from infertility, author Elizabeth Katkin lends advice and comfort from a voice of experience. The alphabet-letters she offers serve to educate slowly, at a time when spoken words can quickly zip past a numb brain. Katkin-as-lawyer cautions prospective parents to beware of legalities in all situations. She talks about money and insurance, and she includes single women and same-sex couples in this entire conversation.

That may be the exact balm struggling, hopeful parents need. It may offer new ideas and direction for a better outcome. For the right reader, “Conceivability” could help put a new little light in your world.

“Ruff Justice”

  • By Laurien Berenson
  • c. 2018, Kensington
  • $26, $28.95 Canada; 304 pages

The buckle on the collar is fastened tightly. It’s not foolproof, but it’s the best way you know to protect your dog. Add to that collar a leash with you at the other end, and Doggo isn’t going anywhere without you. But in “Ruff Justice,” the new whodunit by Laurien Berenson, a collar and a lead won’t protect anyone from murder.

Thirteen-year-old Davey had high hopes.

His dog, Augie, was just a few points away from Champion and it had to happen that weekend. It had to. After all, as Davey’s mom, Melanie Travis knew, showing Standard Poodles was practically a family tradition and Davey was a natural in the ring.

"Ruff Justice" by Laurien Berenson

But adding points toward Augie’s Champion status wasn’t the only remarkable thing that happened that weekend. Though dog shows were usually social events mostly among friends, someone else thought differently and strangled Jasmine Crane, local artist and regular exhibitor.

But there was more: Abby Burke, sister of well-regarded dog-sitter, Amanda, came to Melanie’s Aunt Peg’s house, looking for Amanda, who was missing. Melanie agreed to help; she was good at that sort of thing, and when she learned that Amanda had rented an apartment from Jasmine, well, there were just too many coincidences.

Amanda, as it turned out, had a boyfriend, Rick, and he was one truly awful human being. Then again, Jasmine was no sweetheart: having pilfered husbands as well as jewelry and expensive artwork, she was a thief of the highest magnitude. Was Jasmine having an affair with Rick – and if not, could Amanda be afraid of him somehow? And then there was Jasmine’s supposed friend, Sadie, who liked dogs much more than she liked people and who almost refused to speak to Melanie unless Melanie brought her poodle, Faith, along. Sadie was eccentric, to say the least.

“Ruff Justice” author Laurien Berenson

As Melanie poked around and asked questions, nobody within dog show circles was willing to point any fingers but it was obvious that Jasmine was nobody’s favorite person. She was demanding, conniving, and few were sorry to learn that she was gone – but who would have reason enough to kill her?

Uncomplicated. That’s how you want your reading at this time in the year, heading into back-to-school, done with vacations, sliding into fall. You want something not-too-intricate. You want “Ruff Justice.”

For so many reasons, “Ruff Justice” may be perfect for you: this mystery doesn’t have car chases or sniper’s bullets. No international spy stuff, no violence and only a small handful of the most minor of swear words. Yes, author Laurien Berenson packs a lot of characters into her story but overall, this is an easy book that doesn’t take a thousand watts of brain-power to read or enjoy.

Pick-it-up-and-put-it-down easy. Just right for late summer.

Be aware that a basic knowledge of the dog show industry will help in enjoying this book but don’t fret if you haven’t got it. There are enough clues in this mystery to help even a neophyte catch up quick, which makes “Ruff Justice” a book anyone should collar.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.