True Crime Mini Review: "The Good Nurse"

Click to view on Amazon.comI love good true crime books, and so does Dr. Mrs. Oblogatory. In fact, it was one of the first things we discovered that we had in common. 

And “The Good Nurse” by Charles Graeber is a good ‘un. But, hey, guess what—the title is ironic. 

Because the nurse who is the subject of this book? He wasn’t good. No. Not at all. 

In fact, an un-ironic title for the book could have been—SPOILER ALERT!—“The Cold-Blooded, Creepy-Ass Murderous Psychopath Nurse.” 

This is the story of Charles Cullen, a registered nurse who over the course of 16 years at eight different hospitals killed an astonishing number of patients—no one, not even him, knows how many. But it was almost certainly in the hundreds. 

I ripped through these 320 pages in a day and a half. Riveting stuff. 

What makes this a “good” true crime book? It’s well-written and well-researched. It’s not a cut-and-paste job of reporting done by others. And, unusually, Graeber actually had the opportunity to interview his subject in prison. 

Graeber is able to tell his story in straightforward compelling prose, without resorting to the suppositional narrative claptrap that drives me insane. “The air was cool and smelled of hyacinths on the fateful morning of July 23, 1997.” 

I hate that stuff, and to me it’s a dead giveaway that the author doesn’t have enough solid factual information to tell the story without limning the fuzzy details around the edges, either because he or she didn’t try to get the facts, or because too much time had passed by the time the author’s research started. 

Graeber didn’t have that problem. He has facts. He has contemporary witness and participant interviews. He doesn’t need to lard his story with narrative curlicues.

Almost as horrifying as the crimes themselves are the particulars of various hospital administrators playing CYA. That’s how Cullen was able to find gainful employment year after year and job after job, giving him access to an endless supply of victims. 

There have been other notorious “Angel of Death” nurse-killer stories, of course. In fact, criminal profilers have classified these types of killers into two main categories, with the murderous medical workers in each category sharing the same basic motivation. 

Charles Cullen did not fall into either category. His motivation was unique. That’s one of the reasons his killing career lasted as long as it did, and one of the reasons “The Good Nurse” is such a compelling read.