Denver is becoming home to a peculiar literary subset: black doctors who moonlight as mystery writers. In 1996, author Robert Greer, a professor of pathology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, published the first of three Denver-based mysteries featuring bounty hunter CJ Floyd.
Now, local surgeon Pius Kamau has entered the fray with his own mystery novel, The Doctor's Date With Death, a brisk read about a killer carving up surgeons in gruesome fashion. The story's heroine, Denver coroner Joyce White, turns amateur detective when her boyfriend, a black heart surgeon, is slain in the book's opening pages. Her investigation moves from Denver to Washington, D.C., to the coast of Virginia and, in an effective conclusion, leaves you wondering what you would do if you knew in advance what day you'd be killed.
Kamau was born and raised in Kenya and immigrated to the U.S. in 1971. Though trained as a chest surgeon, he has always had the heart of a writer: He has been a columnist for the Denver Post and once submitted a 2,000-page manuscript to a publisher in the early '80s. (It was rejected.) He decided to write a mystery because he thought it would draw in readers more effectively than a cut-and-dried look at what goes on in a hospital.
In addition to providing an insider's look at the medical world, Kamau's characters traverse the slippery world of race. For instance, after the black surgeon is murdered, the black community is curiously silent. There's also a racist white surgeon who cavorts with black prostitutes, and white characters who at times react with fear and hatred to the central black characters, all of whom are successful physicians or scientists. Kamau says he has run across his share of prejudiced patients and colleagues in real life as well. "Race in America is there," he says. "It doesn't go away. The only way we're going to eradicate it is by acknowledging it."